"Between 1916 and 1921 a half million African Americans left the South and journeyed to cities in the North and West in what was then the largest internal movement of a people in such a concentrated period of time in the history of the nation. Migrants‘ letters to northern newspapers were among the best and most voluminous sources for understanding the migration process and interpreting the migrants’ motivations for leaving. Seven letters to the Chicago Defender— a black newspaper published in Chicago that strongly urged southern blacks to migrate North—attest to migrants' strong desire to “better their condition,” often risking their lives and possessions to make the trip north."
"During the Great Migration, which peaked between 1916 and 1921, some 5 percent of all southern African Americans headed north. What were their experiences like in their new homes? Beginning in 1917, Charles Johnson, research investigator for the Chicago Urban League, began interviewing migrants in Chicago and Mississippi. Going door to door, Johnson questioned recent southern black migrants to Chicago about their histories and current thoughts about their experiences. Johnson’s summaries of his interviews conveyed a sense of migrants’ diverse response to life in Chicago." GMU History Matters
"The promise of jobs in northern factories during World War I provided African Americans an opportunity to escape the harsh realities of the South. Between 1910 and 1930, approximately 1.6 million African Americans left the South to pursue opportunities in the Northern and Midwestern states. This exodus is known as the Great Migration, and was the first phase of an African American migration that would continue until 1970."
"These interviews—conducted in the 1980s with African Americans who had migrated north during the 1910s and 1920s and with those in Philadelphia who witnessed their arrival—reveal the complex struggles to overcome racism both in the South and in Philadelphia; the search for opportunities in the North; and the worlds of church, work, school, and entertainment which these individuals inhabited. Students curated each interview with an OHMS index, featuring audio segments animated with images, GPS coordinates, and descriptive keywords. Interviews are archived at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries."
"At the turn of the 20th Century, southern African Americans began moving North in larger numbers seeking a better living (pull) and leaving southern segregation (push). The rapid growth of northern cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Boston opened up new job possibilities and better schools. While they were often segregated, legally or informally, into African-American neighborhoods and denied the opportunity to live elsewhere, those neighborhoods often developed vibrant Black culture. The Harlem Renaissance produced outstanding music, art and literature in the 1920s."
"In the 1910s hundreds of thousands of African Americans headed North in the Great Migration. Arthur Dingle was one of them. Dingle was born in the small town of Manning, North Carolina, in 1891. After holding hotel jobs in several cities, he took a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad in Philadelphia. Promised his job back if he enlisted in World War I, the company made good on its promise when Dingle remained in Philadelphia after the war. This interview with Arthur Dingle was conducted by Charles Hardy in 1983 for the Goin’ North Project." GMU History Matters
The “Great Migration” of the second two decades of the 20th century (the teens and twenties) reshaped northern cities—roughly 70,000 southern blacks settled in Chicago alone. Many used the city only as a temporary destination, moving to other cities in the North and West. During these years New York’s black population grew from 91,709 to 152,467; Detroit’s from 5,741 to 40,878; and Philadelphia’s from 84,459 to 134,229. Northern newspapers, word of mouth, and letters sent home by earlier migrants all contributed to the anticipation black southerners felt about opportunities for a new life in the North. Once they had settled in northern cities, however, many newcomers responded more ambivalently to their new surroundings in the face of northern-style racism, cold weather, high prices, crime, and loneliness.Some African-American blues musicians used their songs to describe the migrants’ reactions to their new homes. Lizzie Miles’s “Cotton Belt Blues,” recorded in 1923, expressed yearning for a former southern home.
Between 1910 and 1920, 500,000 African Americans left the South for northern cities, pulled by the promise of jobs in booming wartime industries and pushed by disfranchisement, poverty, racial violence, and lack of educational opportunities. The “Great Migration” placed a strain on cities like Chicago, where the black population nearly doubled during this period to reach 100,000. A series of cartoons by Leslie Rogers published in the Chicago Defender, a weekly newspaper for the city’s African-American community, conveys some of the day-to-day tensions that existed between recently-arrived southern migrants and longtime residents. Rogers’ Defender comic strip, “Bungleton Green,” which started in 1920, featured the misadventures of a naive migrant from the South.
The movement between 1916 and 1921 of a half million African Americans from the South to cities in the North and West was known as the Great Migration. Black migrants told their stories in many forms from letters to poems to paintings. Music offered one of the most original forms in which the migration narrative was told.“Times Is Gettin Harder” (a 1940 recording of an older blues tune by Lucious Curtis) described various incidents from racial injustice to economic hardship that prompted one man’s journey away from the land of “cotton and corn.”
Book Sources: The Great Migration (1910-1970)
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