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The Second Great Migration was the migration of more than 5 million African Americans from the South to the other three regions of the United States. It took place place from 1941, through World War II, and lasted until 1970.[1] It was much larger and of a different character than the first Great Migration (1910-1940). Some historians prefer to distinguish between the movements for those reasons.

In the Second Great Migration, more than five million African Americans moved to cities in states in the North, Midwest and West, including many to California, where Los Angeles and Oakland offered many skilled jobs in the defense industry. More of these migrants were already urban laborers who came from the cities of the South. They were better educated and had better skills than people who did not migrate.[1]

Compared to the more rural migrants of the period 1910-1940, many African Americans in the South were already living in urban areas and had urban job skills before they relocated. They moved to take jobs in the burgeoning industrial cities and especially the many jobs in the defense industry during World War II (WWII). Workers who were limited to segregated, low-skilled jobs in Southern cities were able to get highly skilled, well-paid jobs at California shipyards.[1]

By the end of the Second Great Migration, African Americans had become an urbanized population. More than 80 percent lived in cities. Fifty-three percent remained in the Southern United States, while 40 percent lived in the Northeast and North Central states and 7 percent in the West.[1]

While African Americans were often relegated to support roles during WWII, often these roles could be exceedingly hazardous. A munitions explosion at Port Chicago, CA, across the bay from San Francisco, claimed the lives of over 200 African Americans in 1944. When some of the workers refused to resume work until conditions were made less hazardous, as many as 50 were tried for mutiny and imprisoned.[2]

Other effects of the Second Great Migration:

  • Demographic changes in losing and gaining states
  • African Americans became more unionized;
  • They entered the middle class in larger numbers, with the help of skilled industrial jobs;
  • They worked in many industrial fields; and
  • African-American communities in cities occupied a range of jobs and professions. The concentrations of populations supported their creation of black-owned businesses, such as insurance, funeral homes, hairdressers and barber shops, and they supported their own doctors and lawyers.

Further reading

  • Arnesen, Eric. Black Protest and the Great Migration: A Brief History with Documents (2002).
  • Gregory, James. The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
  • Grossman, James R. Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration (1991).
  • Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (1991), on the 1940-60 migration.
  • Sernett, Milton. Bound for the Promised Land: African Americans' Religion and the Great Migration (1997).

References

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