What inspired African Americans to leave their homes during the Great Migration?
Historians often explain migration as some combination of "push-pull" factors. Oppressive conditions at home like poverty, government persecution, military conscription, high taxes, systemic racism or lack of opportunity might be sufficient to persuade people to seek better conditions elsewhere. Likewise, economic opportunity, religious and political freedom, family ties or a desire for adventure could induce some to pack their bags for a new location.
End of Reconstruction
African Americans in the 50 years after the Civil War responded to both push and pull factors. At the end of Reconstruction and federal oversight of southern states, white majorities resumed control of the government and enacted laws severely discriminating against African Americans. They were denied the right to vote or to serve on juries. Extra-legal, racially-motivated organizations like the Ku Klux Klan terrorized African Americans with threats and incidents of lynchings and other forms of violence. Schools and public accommodations were strictly segregated, and any African American who protested or failed to obey the restrictions ran the risk of retribution, legal or otherwise. The U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson upheld the principle of "separate but equal" facilities, but the African-American institutions were never "equal." African-American schools were in poor facilities with inadequate textbooks with poorly paid and prepared teachers.
The Great Migration
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.
On the other hand, African Americans faced push back from recently arrived immigrant groups who were also seeking jobs. The rapid growth of the cities put a premium on housing, and in this also, African Americans found themselves competing with other ethnic minorities. While African-American professionals might develop successful practices within the Black community, they rarely found their services welcomed in the larger society. As they had done in the South, African-American women found work as domestics, cooks and laundry workers. If white middle-class women rarely worked outside the home, economic necessity forced African-American women, married or not, to seek outside employment.
Labor shortages in World War I created new opportunities for African-American workers, and the Great Migration picked up speed. African-American struggles did not end when they arrived in the North, but they did escape the entrenched segregation of the post-Civil War South.
Why did African Americans migrate?
- "Lynching Black People Because They Are Black" by Frederick Douglass, April 1894 (Document)
- "What a Colored Man Should Do To Vote" Pamphlet from Virginia, 1900 (Document)
- Illustration from "The Exodus," 1919 (Image)
- "Great Migration Railroad Strike 100 Years Ago Brought an Influx of African-Americans to Waterloo" Newspaper Article, February 1, 2011 (Document)
What issues did African Americans face in the South in the beginning of the 20th century?
- "Why Disfranchisement is Bad," 1904 (Document)
- Guinn v. United States, 1914 (Document)
- "A New Reconstruction" Letter, May 1919 (Document)
- "Antilynching Bill" Report, 1921 (Document)
- "Lynchings by States and Counties in the United States, 1900-1931" Map, ca. 1931 (Map)
What benefits did African Americans find in northern cities?
- "Ho for Kansas" Advertising Flyer, March 18, 1878 (Image)
- "National Negro Committee" Platform, 1909 (Document)
- Perfect Eat Shop in Chicago, Illinois, April 1942 (Image)
- Two Women Working in a Factory Making Bedspring Webbing, 1969 (Image)
- Madame C. J. Walker and Her Mansion on the Hudson in New York, ca. 1987 (Image)
What difficulties did African Americans find in northern cities?
- "Chicago Race Riots Spread" Newspaper Article, July 30, 1919 (Document)
- African-American Man Carrying Protest Sign Outside Milk Company in Chicago, Illinois, July 1941 (Image)
- Picket Line at Mid-City Realty Company in Chicago, Illinois, July 1941 (Image)
- "White Tenants in Our White Community" Sign Directed at U.S. Federal Housing Project in Detroit, Michigan, February 1942 (Image)
|Great Migration Teaching Guide|
|Printable Image and Document Guide|
"Lynching Black People Because They Are Black" by Frederick Douglass, April 1894
"What a Colored Man Should Do To Vote" Pamphlet from Virginia, 1900
Illustration from "The Exodus," 1919
“Great Migration Railroad Strike 100 Years Ago Brought an Influx of African-Americans to Waterloo" Newspaper Article, February 1, 2011
"Why Disfranchisement is Bad," 1904
Guinn v. United States, 1914
"A New Reconstruction" Letter, May 1919
"Antilynching Bill" Report, 1921
"Lynchings by States and Counties in the United States, 1900-1931" Map, ca. 1931
"Ho for Kansas" Advertising Flyer, March 18, 1878
"National Negro Committee" Platform, 1909
Perfect Eat Shop in Chicago, Illinois, April 1942
Two Women Working in a Factory Making Bedspring Webbing, 1969
Madame C. J. Walker and Her Mansion on the Hudson in New York, ca. 1987
"Chicago Race Riots Spread" Newspaper Article, July 30, 1919
African-American Man Carrying Protest Sign Outside Milk Company in Chicago, Illinois, July 1941
Picket Line at Mid-City Realty Company in Chicago, Illinois, July 1941
"White Tenants in Our White Community" Sign Directed at U.S. Federal Housing Project in Detroit, Michigan, February 1942
- The African-American Mosaic: Migrations
This webpage features primary sources in the Library of Congress that highlight African-American journeys during the Great Migration.
- Population Map
This map, from the Library of Congress, shows the "Distribution of Negro population by county" in 1950.
- "The Lynching of Negroes in the South"
This booklet from Rev. Francis James Grimke focuses on the brutal action of lynching against African Americans in the South.
- Guinn v. United States
This webpage is an overview of the U.S. Supreme Court case, Guinn v. United States, as presented by the Oklahoma Historical Society.
- John Baskerville Interview
This Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier interview, by Pat Kinney, focuses on the story of John Baskerville, who explains how African Americans migrated to the Waterloo area.
- Chicago Examiner at the Chicago Public Library
The Chicago Examiner was one of a dozen major newspapers published in Chicago at the turn of the last century. It was known for its sensational news stories.
- The Black Metropolis Resource Consortium (BMRC)
The BMRC is a Chicago-based membership organization of libraries, universities and other archival institutions. Its mission is to make broadly accessible its members' holdings of materials that document African American and African diasporic culture, history and politics, with a specific focus on materials relation to Chicago.
- DuSable to Obama: Chicago's Black Metropolis
From the 1920s through the 1950s, Chicago's South Side was the center for African-American culture and business. Known as "Bronzeville," the neighborhood was surprisingly small, but at its peak more than 300,000 lived in the narrow, seven-mile strip.
- "The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot"
This 1922 report, "The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot," was created by the Chicago Commission on Race Relations.
- Exodus to Kansas
This is the 1880 Senate investigation of the beginnings of the African-American migration from the South.
- Historical Census
This historical census report includes statistics on population totals by race, from 1790 to 1990 in the United States.
- The Great Migration
This webpage from History.com provides and overview of the Great Migration in the United States.
- "The Negro at Work During the World War and During Reconstruction"
This report looks at the statistics, problems and policies relating to the greater inclusion of African-American wage earners in American industry and agriculture.
- "Can the South Solve the Negro Problem?"
This pamphlet from Carl Schurz is entitled, "Can the South Solve the Negro Problem?"
- "Negro Suffrage: Should the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments be Repealed?"
This is a speech by Hon. Edward De V. Morrell, a congressman from Pennsylvania, who discusses and refutes the arguments by a Georgia representative that African Americans should be deprived of the franchise.
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom
Starting in 1900, this timeline follows the triumphs and challenges that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- The Red Summer of 1919
This webpage from History.com focuses on the summer of 1919 across the United States where "race riots" broke out in response to the stoning and drowning of a Black Chicago youth by white people at a segregated beach.
Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (9th-12th Grade)
Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are middle school-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for 9th through 12th-grade students.
- SS-US.9-12.13. Analyze how diverse ideologies impacted political and social institutions during eras such as Reconstruction, the Progressive Era, and the Civil Rights movement.
- SS-US.9-12.17. Explain the patterns of and responses to immigration on the development of American culture and law.
- SS-US.9-12.18. Analyze the effects of urbanization, segregation, and voluntary and forced migration within regions of the U.S. on social, political, and economic structures.
- SS-US.9-12.25. Analyze how regional, racial, ethnic and gender perspectives influenced American history and culture.
- SS-Gov.9-12.19. Evaluate the effectiveness of political action in changing government and policy, such as voting, debate, contacting officials, campaign contributions, protest, civil disobedience, and any alternative methods to participation. (21st century skills)
- SS-Soc.9-12.15. Distinguish patterns and causes of stratification that lead to social inequalities, and their impact on both individuals and groups.
- SS-Soc.9-12.16. Examine and evaluate reactions to social inequalities, including conflict, and propose alternative responses.