The Great Migration
The states in blue had the twelve largest net gains of African
Americans, while the states in red had the ten largest net
was the movement of 1.4
the Southern United States
from 1910 to 1930. Precise
estimates of the number of migrants depend on the time frame.
African Americans migrated to escape racism
and seek employment
industrial cities. Some historians differentiate between the First
Great Migration(1910–40), numbering about 1.6 million migrants, and
the Second Great Migration, from 1940–70. In the Second Migration,
5 million or more people relocated, with the migrants moving to
more new destinations. Many moved from Texas and Louisiana to California where there were jobs in the defense
industry. From 1965–70, 14 states of the South,
especially Alabama, Louisiana
and Mississippi, contributed to a large net migration of blacks to
the other three Census-designated regions of the United
Since then, scholars have noted a reverse migration underway that
gathered strength through the last 35 years of the 20th century. It
has been named the New Great
and identified in visible demographic changes since
1965. Most of the data is from 1963-2000. The data encompasses the
movement of African Americans back to the South following
de-industrialization in Northeastern and Midwestern cities, the
growth of high-quality jobs in the "New
", and improving racial relations. Many people moved back
because of family and kinship ties. From 1995-2000, Georgia, Texas and Maryland were the
states that attracted the most black college graduates.
While California was for decades a net gaining state for black
migrants, in the late 1990s it lost more African Americans than it
When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, less than
eight percent of the African American population lived in the
Northeast or Midwest. In 1900, approximately ninety percent of
African-Americans resided in former slave-holding states.
African Americans migrated to New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Buffalo, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Indianapolis, as well as to many smaller industrial cities such
as Gary, Dayton, Toledo, Peoria, Omaha, Newark, Flint, and
Albany to name a
People tended to take the cheapest rail ticket
possible. This resulted in, for example, many people
from Mississippi moving directly north to Chicago.
Between 1910 and 1930, the African-American population grew by
about 40% in Northern states, mostly in the biggest cities. Cities
such as Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Cleveland had some of the
biggest increases in the early part of the century. Because changes
were concentrated in cities, urban tensions rose as African
Americans and new or recent European immigrants, both groups
chiefly from rural societies, competed for jobs and housing with
the white ethnic working class. Tensions were often most severe
between ethnic Irish, defending their positions, and recent
immigrants and blacks.
African Americans moved as individuals or small family groups.
There was no government assistance, but often northern industries,
such as the railroads, meatpacking and stockyards, recruited
people. The primary factor for migration was the racial climate and
widespread violence of lynching in the South. In the North, they
could find better schools and adult men could vote (joined by women
after 1920). Burgeoning industries meant there were job
- African Americans left to escape the discrimination and racial
segregation of late 19th century constitutions and Jim Crow laws.
- The boll weevil infestation of
Southern cotton fields in the late 1910s
forced many sharecroppers and laborers
to search for alternative employment opportunities.
- The enormous expansion of war industries created job openings
for blacks—not in the factories but in service jobs vacated by new
- World War I and the Immigration Act of 1924 effectively
put a halt to the flow of European immigrants to the emerging industrial centers of
the Northeast and Midwest, causing shortages of workers in the
- The Great
Mississippi Flood of 1927 displaced hundreds of thousands of
African-American farmers and farm workers
Lynchings and racially motivated
murders in each decade from 1865 to 1965
The Great Migration of African-Americans created the first large,
urban black communities in the North. It is conservatively
estimated that 400,000 left the South during the two-year period of
1916-1918 to take advantage of a labor shortage created in the wake
of the First World War. The 20th century cultures of many of the
United States' modern cities were forged in this period:
- In 1910, the African American population of Detroit was 6,000.
By the start of the Great Depression in
1929, this figure had risen to 120,000.
- In 1900 Chicago had a total population of 1,698,575. By 1920
the population had increased by more than 1 million residents.
During the second wave of the Great Migration (from 1940-1960), the
African American population in the city grew from 278,000 to
813,000. The South Side of Chicago was considered the black capital
- Other cities, such as St. Louis, Cleveland, Baltimore,
Philadelphia and New York, also experienced surges in their
- In the South, the departure of hundreds of thousands of African
Americans caused the black percentage of the population in most
Southern states to decrease. For example, in Mississippi, blacks
decreased from about 56% of the population in 1910 to about 37% by
1970 and in South Carolina, blacks decreased from about 55% of the
population in 1910 to about 30% by 1970.
Discrimination and working conditions
While the Great Migration helped educated African Americans obtain
jobs, eventually enabling a measure of class mobility
, the migrants
encountered significant forms of discrimination. Because so many
people migrated in a short period of time, the African-American
migrants were often resented by the European American working
class, fearing their ability to negotiate rates of pay or secure
employment, was threatened by the influx of new labor competition.
Sometimes those who were most fearful or resentful were the last
immigrants of the 19th and new immigrants of the 20th c. In many
cities, working classes tried to defend what they saw as "their"
Nonetheless, African Americans made substantial gains in industrial
employment, particularly in the steel, automobile, shipbuilding,
and meatpacking industries. Between 1910 and 1920 the number of
blacks employed in industry nearly doubled from 500,000 to 901,000.
After the Great Depression, more advances took place after workers
in the steel and meatpacking industries were organized in labor
unions in the 1930s and 1940s, under the interracial Congress of Industrial
(CIO). The unions ended segregation of many jobs,
and African Americans began to advance into more skilled jobs and
The migrants discovered racial discrimination in the North, even if
it was sometimes more subtle than the South. Populations increased
so rapidly among African-American migrants and new European
immigrants both that there were housing shortages, and the newer
groups competed even for the oldest, most rundown housing. Ethnic
groups created territories they defended against change.
Discrimination often kept African Americans to crowded
neighborhoods, as in Chicago. More established populations of
cities tended to move to newer housing as it was developing in the
areas limited the newer
African-American migrants' ability to determine their own housing,
or even to get a fair price. In the long term, the National Housing Act of 1934
contributed to limiting the availability of loans to urban areas,
particularly those areas inhabited by African Americans.
Integration, and non-integration
As African Americans migrated, they became increasingly integrated
into society. As they lived and worked more closely with European
Americans, the divide existing between them became increasingly
stark. This period marked the transition for many African Americans
from lifestyles as rural farmers to urban industrial workers.
However, during the migration, migrants would often encounter
residential discrimination in which white home owners and realtors
would prevent migrants from purchasing homes or renting apartments
in white neighborhoods. In addition, when blacks moved into white
neighborhoods, whites would often react violently toward their new
neighbors, including mass riots in front of their new neighbors'
homes, bombings, and even murder. These tendencies contributed to
maintaining the "racial divide" in the North, perhaps even
accentuating it. In cities such as Chicago and Omaha, the postwar
housing boom developed suburban housing restricted to white
populations. By the late 1950s and 1960s, African Americans were
hyper-urban, more densely concentrated in inner cities than other
Since African-American migrants sustained many Southern cultural
and linguistic traits, such cultural differences created a sense of
"otherness" in terms of their reception by others who were living
in the cities before them. Stereotypes ascribed to "black" people
during this period and ensuing generations, often derived from
African American migrants' rural cultural traditions, which were
maintained in stark contrast to the urban environments in which the
- The Great Migration 1920s
- Hahn, Steven. "A Nation Under Our Feet" (2003), The Belknap
Press of Harvard University, ISBN 0-674-01765-X.
- William H. Frey, "The New Great Migration: Black
Americans' Return to the South, 1965–2000", The Brookings
Institution, May 2004, pp. 1–3, accessed 19 Mar 2008
- James Gilbert Cassedy, "African Americans and the
American Labor Movement", Prologue', Summer 1997, Vol.29,
No.2, accessed 14 Apr 2008
- Gibson, Campbell (June 1998). Population of the 100 Largest Cities and Other
Urban Places in the United States: 1790 to 1990. U.S.
Bureau of the Census - Population Division.
- "African Americans", Encyclopedia of Chicago, accessed
1 Mar 2008
- Gibson, Campbell and Kay Jung (September 2002). Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals
By Race, 1790 to 1990, and By Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, For
The United States, Regions, Divisions, and States. U.S.
Bureau of the Census - Population Division.
- Racialization and the State: The Housing Act of
1934 and the Creation of the Federal Housing
Administration , Kevin Fox Gotham Sociological
Perspectives, Vol. 43, No. 2 (Summer, 2000), pp. 291-317
- ‘Ruralizing’ the City Theory, Culture, History, and
Power in the Urban Environment
- Hahn, Steven. "A Nation Under Our Feet" (2003), pg. 465, The
Belknap Press of Harvard University, ISBN 0-674-01765-X.
- Arnesen, Eric. Black Protest and the Great Migration: A
Brief History with Documents (2002), Bedford/St. Martin's
Press, ISBN 0312391293.
- Grossman, James R. Land of Hope: Chicago, Black
Southerners, and the Great Migration (1991), University of
Chicago Press, ISBN 0226309959.
- Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black
Migration and How It Changed America (1991), Vintage Press,
- Scott, Emmett J., Negro Migration during the War
- Sernett, Milton. Bound for the Promised Land: African
Americans' Religion and the Great Migration (1997), Duke
University Press, ISBN 0822319934.
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