History Brief: The Great Migration


In the 1910s and 20s, a large number of African
Americans moved from the South to other parts of the country. Why did they move? What kind
of impact did this have on the nation? In 1900, most African Americans in the United
States lived in Southern states. In fact, 90% of the African American population still
lived in the South. However, many began to move into Northern and Midwestern states,
such as Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York.
The reasons they were moving varied from family to family. In some cases, they were hoping
to find jobs in steel mills, automobile factories, meatpacking plants, or working for the railroad.
Some were searching for better schools and educational opportunities. Others were hoping
to escape the racism and violence that African Americans were experiencing in the South.
Most who left the South were heading for larger Northern cities. Chicago, New York City, Detroit,
Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland all experienced significant surges in population.
For example, in 1910, the African American population of Detroit was approximately 6,000.
By 1930, this number had increased to 120,000. Nationwide, only an estimated 740,000 Africa
Americans lived outside of the South. As the 20th Century progressed, this number eventually
rose to more than 10 million living in other regions of the country.
The Great Migration was one of the largest and fastest movements ever by a group of people
who were moving from one part of a nation to another. This is especially true when considering
that the movement was not caused by some kind of immediate threat or danger. This migration
had many different ramifications for the nation. As black populations rose, many Northern cities
became increasingly more integrated. African Americans were working alongside recent European
immigrants as well as other white residents. These cities also became important centers
for African American culture. Newspapers, churches, businesses and political organizations
were all established by African Americans as part of a movement to redefine black culture.
Harlem (a neighborhood in New York City) became the center of much of this activity. Musicians,
artists, and writers flocked to the area, bringing about the era that would eventually
become known as the Harlem Renaissance. There were also some negative impacts of the
Great Migration. Many African Americans who moved north did experience racism in their
new cities. In some neighborhoods, white residents moved away, having no desire to live with
black neighbors. This resulted in some places, such as Harlem, having an almost exclusively
black population. Obviously, another significant impact of the
Great Migration was the changing demographics of the South. Every Southern state experienced
a loss in African American population, especially in the rural regions. African Americans made
up more than 50% of the populations in both Mississippi and South Carolina. Texas, Louisiana,
Alabama, and Georgia had populations that were more than 40% black. Within just a few
decades, these numbers would be reduced to less than 30% in nearly every one of those
states.

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