The Great African Americans Migration 1910 to 1920s Essay
By the turn of the nineteenth century, the number of African Americans living in the living in the United States was approximated at almost nine million. Of the estimated figures, ninety percent of the African Americans lived in the South where they constituted almost a third of the total population of the region. Around a fifth of them were said to live in the urban areas while four out of every five African Americans lived in the rural areas. At this point, they could be said to have been very much a closed population.
They had not been significantly affected by either in or out migration but this status was soon to change from around 1910 when they embarked on a South to North (and West) migration, starting with a very slow place but steadily gaining speed as the years advanced 5. During the years of the First World War, the out- migration of African Americans from the South became increasingly apparent. Between 1910 and 1920, more than 800, 000 African Americans living on the South migrated to the north. This pace of outward migration was to slow down but still continue way into the 1930s and 1940s.
Thus in a span of just three decades, from the 1910s to the 1930s, an estimated 1. 8 million African Americans living in the south migrated from the region to other areas. However, the South is said to have retained a sizable percentage of its native population of African Americans as almost eight out of ten African Americans still remained southerners by place of residence. All in all, the percentage of African Americans occupying the southern states and the entire region began to shrink steadily.
This decline was estimated to be from thirty percent to twenty-four percent within a span of forty years (1910-1940). The individual states which suffered the biggest decline in African American population percentages were Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. Those which registered the least number of declines were Mississippi and Alabama 5. Thus the closed African American population became more open with the out migrations towards the North and West. By the 1940s, the South had lost around 1. 5 million of African Americanss inhabiting the region; one of the most significant net migrations ever 5.
This movement of African Americanss to the north from the 1910s to around the 1920s and 30s has been referred to as the Great African Americans migration. Most of the African Americans who were looking for a way to improve their life moved to the cities in the Northern states as well as the West. The migration patterns created by these movements were highly complex. Some of the rural southerners did not move to the North but looked for greater opportunities within the Southern region’s agriculture which was tenancy- dominated.
Others moved to the urban regions of the South while still others migrated to the Northern states such as New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Philadelphia so as to escape the ‘barbarism’ of the southern states. The following section analyzes the factors leading to this great migration of the African Americanss 6. CAUSES OF THE GREAT AFRICAN AMERICANS MIGRATION Social reasons In 1914, approximately 90 percent of African Americans Southerners lived in the states that had been part of the former Confederacy. These states had legalized the Jim Crow statutes which allowed for racial segregation.
In the 1890s, the Supreme Court had made a series of rulings which validated these statutes, thereby leading to the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine of 1896 by Plessy v. Ferguson which in effect, legalized segregation in the United States 3. Segregation had existed before though it was not systematically applied until the late part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century. What brought about such systematic discrimination was the blur in the line separating the African Americans and the Whites.
The Whites were particularly irked by the fact that a certain generation of African Americans who had grown up as free people were demanding respect and competing for the same jobs and public space as the Whites. The increasing African Americans’ independence made the Whites feel that the only way to put African Americans’ “back in their place” was through maintaining clear racial boundaries, hence the rise of the Jim Crow laws 4. African Americans were obviously on the loosing end from the legalization of these statues. They were treated unfairly and considered inferior to the White race which made them lose their dignity.
The segregation was deeply entrenched in public institutions such as schools, restaurants, hotels and even in hospitals. African Americans were not supposed to be seen in areas frequented by Whites and were restricted to the African American dominated areas. They had their own institutions such as schools and hospitals built for them but these did not match in quality to those of the Whites. As a result of this outright and dehumanizing discrimination, many of them left the South in the hope that they would find better treatment in the North 1.
Other than being discriminated against and segregated by the White populace, the African Americans also experienced open hostility and violence from the Whites, often times leading to death. There were widespread beatings of African Americans and in some cases, mutilation of various forms such as castrations. African Americans were frequently attacked by White mobs and murder of African Americans became a common occurrence. With time, lynching became the preferred means of killing African Americans and a popular means of racial control.
The incidences of lynching became more and more regular mostly as a result of anxieties by the Whites over changes in the political, social as well as economic landscapes. In the 1890s, approximately two African Americans were lynched per week. However, there were some Whites who did not support it though all felt that it was a necessary means of maintaining racial order 4. From 1900 to 1914 alone, more than 1000 African Americans were killed by Whites, thereby necessitating a movement to the relatively safer North 1. Political reasons for migration
In 1867, African Americans people were allowed to vote but they did not really get to practice their voting rights as the White southerners devised several methods to prevent them from exercising their rights. For instance, they made it a requirement for anyone wishing to exercise his voting right to pass a test on literacy before he or she could be allowed to vote. This was targeted at disenfranchising the African Americans since many of them were illiterate as they had been given no education at all. The White southerners also introduced a poll tax which meant that those wishing to vote would have to pay money first.
This was also another move to disenfranchise the African American southerners since most of them were extremely poor and therefore could not manage to pay a voting fee each time they wanted to vote. Another move taken to bar African Americans from voting was the introduction of the ‘grandfather clause’ into many constitutions of the Southern States. The grandfather clause stated that people who were allowed to vote on or before the first of January 1867, or whose father or grandfather had voting rights were not subject to the literacy test as well as poll tax payment.
This clause therefore successfully barred African Americans from voting and the Whites enjoyed the voting privilege by themselves. Generally, Whites had more civil as well as legal rights compared to the African Americans and were accorded more superiority. This led the African Americans to look for other places where they could be heard 1. Economic reasons Before the period of the great African Americans migration, African Americans practiced agricultural production as their means of earning their livelihood.
This agriculture was based on tenancy, where the freedmen, having no ownership of land, would rent it and work as tenants; exercising complete control over the produce of the farmlands and the profits subsequently earned. The tenancy of the land was to be renewed every year. The most prevalent form of farming however, was sharecropping. Under this practice, the owners of the land subdivided it into smaller farms of about thirty acres or so which were then allocated to single families.
In return, the resident families paid the land owners through a share of the crop, usually half by half. The terms of this agreement depended on a variety of things such as whether the tenant was known or if the owner of the farm provided tools and other farming requirements to the tenant. In this manner, the African Americans returned to the fields and provided labor to the land owners 4. In the 1910s, there was a major agricultural depression due to natural occurrences and the farmers, both African Americans and white, suffered greatly.
The cotton fields in particular, were invaded by the boll weevil which devoured the crop in the entire African Americans belt. Another natural phenomenon which devastated the farmlands was flooding in the south. The summer of 1915 saw massive floods which destroyed the crops in the farms and left the African Americans destitute as well as homeless 2. As a result, the prices paid for agricultural products fell and the small farms such as the ones rented to the African Americans yielded negligible profits.
The African Americans therefore sank further into poverty and led a very precarious existence 1. The wages paid to the farm laborers reduced significantly and life for the African Americans was once again hard. Ironically, the North at this time, were experiencing significant increases in production and were therefore in dire need of labor. This can be attributed to the First World War which increased demand for goods produced in the North but restricted immigrations into the U. S yet it is the immigrants who provided the biggest share of labor to the Northern cities.
The laborers in the North were also increasingly taking part in Union activities as they demanded for an increase in wages as well as better conditions for working. Northern industrialists therefore looked to the South for new labor supply and recruited the displaced African Americans as well as white workers into their industries. African Americans saw this as an opportunity to improve their livelihoods and migrated to the North in search of greener pastures 2. Testimonies of African Americans living in the North
Appalled by the living conditions of their people in the South, African Americans living in the North especially those who owned newspapers or operated them started editorial campaigns that were aimed at convincing the African American southerners to move to the North where life would be better for them. Examples of newspapers involved in such campaigns were the Chicago defender as well as the Christian Recorder. These editorial campaigns tended to portray the North as the Biblical ‘Promised Land’ and convinced the African Americans that there they would have better opportunities.
Thus due to interplay of the social political and economic reasons for migration as well as urgings from the African Americans living in the North, the African Americans left the South in their droves for real or perceived better opportunities in the North and the West 2. CONCLUSION Some of the African Americans who migrated to the North were able to find better opportunities and improve their livelihood. They were able to secure employment in the Northern industries dealing with various production processes.
However, most of the migrants soon found that life in the North was not too different from life in the South. They still faced racial prejudice and were discriminated against by the Whites. Where they were employed, they were paid less than Whites employed in the same positions and most found that they were given jobs that involved manual labor. The public facilities in the North were open to both races but housing remained segregated as Whites remained unwilling to share their space with the African Americans.
All in all, the great migration did manage to somewhat improve the living conditions of African Americans 2. REFERENCES 1. “At Home with Art & Industry: 1890-1920: The economic, political and social reasons behind the Great Migration”. Illinois State Museum, 31 Dec 2006
S Economic History 01 Jan 1999
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