Tag Archives: Great Migration

“Nothing here but money.” (The Great Migration: Part 3)



MOMA_PANEL58_900
“In the North the African American had more educational opportunities.” Jacob Lawrence
Image credit: The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

“South State Street was in its glory then, a teeming Negro street with crowded theatres, restaurants and cabarets.  And excitement from noon to noon.  Midnight was like day.  The street was full of workers and gamblers, prostitutes and pimps, church folks and sinners.” — Langston Hughes

In many ways, the North delivered on its promise.  The migrants enjoyed higher wages, better education for their children, and the opportunity to participate in the political process.  Perhaps most refreshingly, they no longer had to behave in a subservient manner to white people. Letters from migrants to their Southern friends and families, drew more and more blacks out of the South.

 Dear Sir:

I take this method of thanking you for your early responding and the glorious effect of the treatment. Oh. I do feel so fine. Dr., the treatment reach[ed] me almost ready to move. I am now housekeeping again. I like it so much better than rooming. Well, Dr., with the aid of God I am making very good. I make $75 per month. I am carrying enough insurance to pay me $20 per week if I am not able to be on duty. I don’t have to work hard, don’t have to mister every little white boy comes along. I haven’t heard a white man call a colored a n*****r you know now–since I been in the state of PA. I can ride in the electric street and steam cars anywhere I get a seat. I don’t care to mix with white. What I mean–I am not crazy about being with white folks, but if I have to pay the same fare, I have learn[ed] to want the same accommodation. And if you are first in a place here shopping, you don’t have to wait until the white folks get through trading. Yet amid all this, I shall ever love the good old South and I am praying that God may give every well wisher a chance to be a man regardless of his color, and if my going to the front would bring about such conditions, I am ready any day.  Well, Dr., I don’t want to worry you but read between lines; and maybe you can see a little sense in my weak statement. The kids are in school every day. I have only two, and I guess that [is] all. Dr., when you find time, I would be delighted to have a word from the good old home state. Wife join[s] me in sending love you and yours.

 I am your friend and patient.

However, while wages were higher than the migrants had earned before, the pay was often low relative to the higher cost of living.  Many migrants were forced to live in overcrowded and dilapidated neighborhoods.  In Chicago, the newcomers clashed culturally with the Old Settlers–blacks who had lived in the city much longer.  And, they clashed violently with whites, in Chicago and throughout the North.

I referred to several sources, but used the following most heavily–

“The Forgotten March That Started the National Civil Rights Movement Took Place 100 Years Ago”

Blowing the Trumpet: The ‘Chicago Defender’ and Black Migration during World War I,” James R. Grossman

Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration, James R. Grossman

“In Motion: The African-American Experience (The Great Migration)

“The Origins and Diffusion of Racial Restrictive Covenants,”Michael Jones-Correa

The Journal of Negro History, Volume IV, 1919

The Journal of Negro History, Volume VI, 1921

“‘If You Can’t Push, Pull, If You Can’t Pull, Please Get Out of the Way’: The Phyllis Wheatley Club and Home in Chicago, 1896 to 1920,”Anne Meis Knupfer

The Defender: How a Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America, Ethan Michaeli

The Great Black Migration:  A Historical Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic, Steven A. Reich

Negro Migration During the War,” Emmett J. Scott


“We will do any kind of work.” (The Great Migration: Part 2)



tpc_panel23_900
“The migration spread,” Jacob Lawrence
Image credit: The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

“We must have the Negro in the South … It is the only labor we have; it is the best we have—if we lost it, we [would] go bankrupt.” –Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, 1916

Prior to World War I, African Americans had plenty of reasons to want to leave the South.  But they had little reason to believe that life would be better in the North.  But the “War to End All Wars” created unprecedented labor opportunities for southern blacks.  Labor agents enticed many migrants with free transportation, but it was The Chicago Defender newspaper that probably did the most to encourage African Americans to move.  Its portrayal of a comfortable Black Chicago, and advertisements of a “Great Northern Drive,” led many southerners to write letters like this one:

Dear Sir: Please Sir, will you kindly tell me what is meant by the Great Northern Drive to take place May the 15th on Tuesday? It is a rumor all over town to be ready for the 15th of May to go in the drive. The Defender first spoke of the drive the 10th of February. My husband is in the North already preparing for our family, but hearing that the excursion will be $6.00 from here north on the 15th, and having a large family, I could profit by it if it is really true. Do please write me at once and say is there an excursion to leave the South. Nearly the whole of the South is getting ready for the drive or excursion as it is termed. Please write at once. We are sick to get out of the solid South.

Southern whites expressed alarm and anger that their valuable Negro labor was fleeing. Black leaders also questioned whether migration was the best course.  But there was little they could do to stop it.

Recommended Reading
The Warmth of Other Suns:  Isabel Wilkerson took 15 years to write this book, and it shows. The book is THOROUGH. Think of it as Everything That You Didn’t Know That You Didn’t Know About the Great Migration.

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow:  Richard Wormser covers a lot of ground in a relative few pages.  It opens with Reconstruction and ends at 1954.

Sources–

I referred to several sources, but used the following most heavily–

Benjamin ‘Pap’ Singleton,” Kansas State Historical Society

The Journal of Negro History, Volume IV, 1919

The Journal of Negro History, Volume VI, 1921

Blowing the Trumpet: The ‘Chicago Defender’ and Black Migration during World War I,” James R. Grossman

Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration,” James R. Grossman

Black Workers and the Great Migration North,” Carole Marks

The Defender: How a Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America, Ethan Michaeli

Race, Class, and Power in the Alabama Coalfields, Brian Kelly

The Great Black Migration:  A Historical Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic, Steven A. Reich

Negro Migration During the War,” Emmett J. Scott


“We have to be shot down here like rabbits.” (The Great Migration: Part 1)



“…the slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” W.E.B. du Bois

Initiated before the end of the Civil War, Reconstruction held the promise of freedom, full citizenship, and (for men) the franchise for African Americans. But even before the Federal troops that were enforcing Reconstruction withdrew from the former Confederate States, Southern communities and legislatures set about to return the freed men and women to their former condition.

Despite the guarantees of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, blacks were denied their new rights through legal and extra-legal means. In the decades after the war, many blacks did make legislative, educational, and financial gains.  However, many more faced limited economic opportunity and the constant threat of violence.

Seeking information about opportunities in the North, men and women, the young and the older, regardless of education level, wrote letters to the Chicago Defender newspaper, the Chicago Urban League, and other organizations.  The following letter was written by a 17-year-old girl from Selma, Alabama:

Dear Sir: I am a reader of the Chicago Defender I think it is one of the Most Wonderful Papers of our race printed. Sirs I am writeing to see if You all will please get me a job. And Sir I can wash dishes, wash, iron, nursing, work in groceries and dry good stores. Just any of these I can do. Sir, whosoever you get the job from, please tell them to send me a ticket and I will pay them when I get their, as I have not got enough money to pay my way. I am a girl of 17 years old and in the 8 grade at Knox Academy School. But on account of not having money enough I had to stop school. Sir I will thank you all with all my heart. May God Bless you all. Please answer in return mail.

In this first episode of a three-part series on the Great Migration, we will see what changed–and what didn’t change–for African Americans in the South after the Civil War.

28.1942.20


Recommended Reading
The Warmth of Other Suns:  Isabel Wilkerson took 15 years to write this book, and it shows. The book is THOROUGH. Think of it as Everything That You Didn’t Know That You Didn’t Know About the Great Migration.

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow:  Richard Wormser covers a lot of ground in a relative few pages.  It opens with Reconstruction and ends at 1954.

I referred to several sources, but used the following most heavily–

Slavery by Another Name, Douglas Blackmon

Black Workers and the Great Migration North,” Carole Marks

Blowing the Trumpet: The ‘Chicago Defender’ and Black Migration during World War I,” James R. Grossman

Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration,” James R. Grossman

Separate is Not Equal:  Brown v. Board of Education

The Civil War:  The Senate’s History


Welcome to American Epistles!



A378536E-FD5C-4886-B68F-A2DB8650BBE6
Image credit:  Public Doman

Where does “history” come from? How do we know, for example, what words didn’t make it into the Declaration of Independence?  Or what the delegates to the Constitutional Convention argued about before the final document was signed on September 17, 1787?

To a great degree, our history textbooks started with the diaries that the Founding Fathers kept, and the letters they wrote to one another.

But there is more to history than Founding Fathers and famous generals. There are millions of names that we’ll never know, of soldiers who fought in American wars, and families who waited for their return. People who hoped and waited for change, but may not have lived to enjoy the rights that the law would eventually grant them. People who weren’t trying to make history, but were just living their lives.

On American Epistles, we will hear from these “ordinary” people, through their journals, diaries, and personal letters. Each episode will focus on a different time period or event, and feature the words of some Americans who lived through it.

Please come back on Saturday, January 5, for the first episode, about the Great Migration. We will hear letters from a few of the millions of African Americans who left the Jim Crow South in search of a better life. Letters like this one:

East Chicago, Indiana

June 10, 1917

Dear Old Friend:
These moments I thought I would write you a few true facts of the present condition of the north. Certainly I am trying to take a close observation–now it is tru the (col) men are making good. Never pay less than $3.00 per day or (10) hours–this is not promise. I do not see how they pay such wages the way they work labors. They do not hurry or drive you. Remember this is the very lowest wages. Piece work men can make from $6 to $8 per day. They receive their pay every two weeks. This city I am living in, the population [is] 30,000 (20) miles from Big Chicago, Ill. Doctor I am some what impress. My family also. They are doing nicely. I have no right to complain what ever … People are coming here every day and are finding employment. Nothing here but money and it is not hard to get. Remember me to your dear Family. Oh, I have children in school every day with the white children. I will write you more next time. How is the lodge?

Your friend,

New episodes will post the first and third Saturday of every month … hopefully. 🙂  Thank you all for your support and see you next year!

Credits:

The letter from Sgt. Ann Burchard is the property of the State Historical Society of Missouri. Browse their full collection of WWII correspondence.

The letter by the migrant to Indiana was originally printed in the Chicago Defender Newspaper, and reprinted in the Journal of Negro History, which is in the public domain and available at Gutenberg.org.

Sources cited:
Chernow, Ron. Washington: a Life. Penguin Books, 2010