The great migration, also known as the black migration, was a movement of African Americans between 1916 and 1970 out of the rural southern United States to urban northeast, mid-west, and west. It is one of the largest migrations in human history as it involved about six million black Americans. This movement impacted a big part of American history, both socially and economically. This article focuses on the diverse reasons for this exodus.
It is important to note that the migrations did not occur because of a single factor, but instead, it was stimulated by the push and pull factors.
Reasons for the Great Migration
Racial Violence in the South
Many scholars cite racial violence in the South as a primary reason why African Americans migrated. It was so thick and prevalent. An increase in the spread of racist ideology prompted widespread lynching. Nearly 3500 black Americans were victims of racial lynching. The whites used lynching as a method to terrorize blacks into submission. On everyday occasions, lynching would occur when a black American was accused of committing a criminal offense.
A lynch mob would gather, then victims would be subjected to diverse physical torment. And in most cases, the torture would end with one hanging on a tree and set on fire. Often, lynching occurred with aid from white government forces. The latter leaves a black inmate’s jail unguarded, such that mobs would quickly come for him or her.
Nearly 25% of lynching victims were accused of sexual assault, while 30% murder. During those times, when a white woman complained that a black man had sexually harassed her, the lad would undergo severe punishment before being killed. And, of course, the black society was not happy with this. Since these lynchings’ legitimacy was unknown, there is no clear documentation on how many were conducted.
In other instances, the blacks would be segregated because of their color. Both black and white men had different restaurants, libraries, hospitals, and even schools. When black and white men mixed in institutions or social centers, tensions would arise, which meant disregarding Jim Crow laws.
“They were fleeing the violence of the caste system in the South, only to be met with challenges and obstacles in the North,” Wilkerson explained.
“They were searching for ways to manage in a world that had not welcomed them… where they were met with hostility upon their arrival. I would not find it surprising that their health would suffer as a result.”
Jim Crow laws significantly contributed to dividing the blacks and the whites. They kept reminding the blacks that they were inferior to the whites. Anytime a black man was punished, it served as a remembrance of white supremacy. Following the racial disputes, men of color could not afford acceptable living standards and had to survive from hand to mouth. They received only 85 cents a day, which could not match the high cost of living.
“I am working hard in the South and can hardly earn a living. I have a wife and children, and I can hardly feed them.”
Unbearable farming conditions
Right from back in time, Africans are known for their great workforce. And it is because of that that farming is one of their primary day-to-day activities. Being a rare breed in the United States, African American farmers lost ownership of their lands and farming operations. Civil wars also resulted in many blacks losing their ground, making it difficult for them to grow crops.
The widespread infestation of boll weevil and flooding also made it difficult for crops to grow. Often the farmers would plant many crops, but the harvest would be discouraging.
Presence of social and economic opportunities in the North
The presence of job opportunities in the North also lured black Americans to the North. The labor shortages in the North were because of World War 1. Thousands of jobs were available in steel mills, railroads, meatpacking plants, and the automobile industry. The pull of jobs in the North was strengthened by the efforts of labor agents sent by northern businessmen to recruit southern workers. The North offered special allowances to encourage black workers to relocate, including free transportation and low-cost housing.
Amid the first World War, there was a plunge in European immigrants, which significantly impacted the northern factories. There was a low supply of workers. In 1914, around 1.2 million European immigrants arrived in the North. However, the following year, only 300000 came. Recruitment of workers into the military for the world war had also affected the workforce. Nevertheless, this provided an opportunity for African Americans in the North, especially as the northern industries needed labor supply from the South.
The northern jobs were more advantageous compared to the southern ones. They were privileged to wages that could be double or more. Also, in North America, there were promising social opportunities, unlike the Jim Crow laws, which suppressed the subjects. The blacks were so happy to arrive in the North. However, the cities were not prepared for that kind of influx.
Hence most of the blacks were crowded in black neighborhoods. Chicago, Philadelphia, Georgia, Mississippi, Boston were some of the regions hosting the blacks. Staying separately was not much of a problem for them as the most crucial thing was getting a good-paying job and improving their living standards.
Moreover, in the North, African Americans felt a sense of belonging. No Jim Crow laws prohibit one from accessing an area. After all, everyone wants to be in a space where they are free. For it is only then that they can grow. Some blacks also moved to the North to reunite with their families, friends, and relatives. Remember, Africans originally came to the Americas as a slave, which meant they were parted with their families.
How Has the Great Migration Affected Black Community Today?
The migration of the African American population initiated nationalism. Initially, black people were distributed in the North and west in small numbers, while the majority in the South because of slavery. Hence after the black movement, black populations were redistributed. To date, blacks have their neighborhoods in the Americas and, as such, can fearlessly voice out their opinions.
They became skilled and adopted the ability to navigate large northern industrial areas’ complicated and anonymous social lives. How did they achieve this? Black and white elites in the North had established the Urban League. The latter was designed to aid black migrants in adjusting to urban industrial life. That meant their behavior at work, home, in public. However, it was stereotypical for the northern authorities to think that the black Americans were amateurs. Most of those who migrated already had experience working in some industries in the South.
Were it not for the black migration; there would be no Harlem Renaissance. Because of the redistribution, black Americans got to unite and thus rekindled their culture. Many black American cultures would not have emerged in the streets if blacks had not migrated from the South. Arts, visual, musical, literary were outpouring in Washington, New York, Chicago, Paris, etc.
Also, they would not be a Bronzeville without the great migration. Bronzeville is generally about black entrepreneurs like Jesse Binga, who founded the bank, and Robbert Abbot, a proclaimed editor of the Chicago Defender. Moreover, a black metropolis would not exist if it were not for the black working-class migrants who made it happen by saving up in black banks.
Do Blacks Still Prefer North to South?
The journey to the North at first was a dream come true. However, as time went by, challenges started popping up. The mixing of white and black workers in factories began to build tensions. The American Federation of Labor began endorsing the separation of black Americans and white laborers. As tensions were surging due to workplace segregation, it was not long before violence erupted.
St. Louis, Illinois riot was one of the deadliest riots that occurred. It was between African Americans and whites. The violence left about forty to two hundred people dead. And over 6000 black Americans got displaced from their homes.
Many people lost their lives, jobs, and homes amid the conflict. Meanwhile, racial tension and discrimination continued to escalate. Relating to the back clash, black Americans no longer view the North as a land of greener pastures. In lieu, they are moving to the South. That’s because the South often has opportunities, and it is more comfortable.
In some cases, people who have relatives or properties in the South find pleasure going there now and then. Sometime back, about one million African Americans used to live in Chicago. However, after the 2000 census, the tally is different. It has declined to 850000. Therefore, it is evident that an estimated 150000 black Americans had migrated. The big question is, are they still in the North, Illinois, in the suburbs, or did they move to the South? Or are they in Atlanta, Charlotte?