Great Migration, 1910–1920

views updated May 23 2018


In 1914, 90 percent of African Americans lived in the states of the former Confederacy, where so-called Jim Crow statutes had legalized the separation of Americans by race. These statutes were validated by a series of Supreme Court rulings during the 1890s, culminating in the famous 1896 "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, which made segregation legal in the United States. But between 1910 and 1920, the percentage of African Americans living in the South began to fall. By 1930, more than 21.2 percent of African Americans lived outside of the South.

Historians continue to debate why African Americans failed to leave the South in large numbers at the end of the American Civil War (18611865). Migration itself is a result of both push and pull factors prejudice, better economic opportunities, discrimination, etc. While the South certainly provided push factors, the North offered strong pull elements for Southern African Americans, appearing to have a more open society and better economic opportunities, though it still had its share of prejudice and discrimination.

Some historians argue that European immigration accounts for the slow start of the Black exodus. The huge demand for labor in the heavily industrialized North was met mostly by massive European immigration. Irish and German laborers first filled many of the urban factory jobs, and the remaining jobs tended to go to southern and eastern Europeans. Had Northern industries not met their demand for labor with European immigration, some historians argue that employers would have more actively recruited Southern Blacks.

World War I (19141918) greatly accelerated the migration of African Americans out of the rural South, where agriculture had been plagued by floods and crop failures, including a devastating plague of boll weevils that decimated the cotton crop. With greater demand for the war effort, factory owners in northern cities sent recruiters to draw workers northward with glowing reports of high wages and good living conditions. During the decade between 1910 and 1920, the African American population of the North and West grew by 333,000.

Once in Northern urban areas, however, African Americans were segregated in urban slums, where they continued to be objects of race hatred by their white neighbors, especially unskilled workers who viewed them as competitors for their jobs. A growing number of African Americans during this time began to demand the rights long denied to them, particularly higher wages, equal protection under the law, and the chance to vote and hold political office. Leading the increasingly militant National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), W.E.B. DuBois (18681963) took on all of these aims as key goals for the group.

Turning to terrorism, lynch mobs in the South murdered more than 70 African Americans in 1919, ten of them World War I veterans in uniform. The new Ku Klux Klan, committed to the intimidation of African Americans, gained more than 100,000 members. In 1919 the country saw the worst outburst of racial riots in American history up until that time. Two of the most tragic occurred in Washington, DC, where a majority of the offenders were white veterans; and in the Chicago slums, where for thirteen days a mob of whites fought African Americans. Before the year ended, twenty-five race riots had resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries, and millions of dollars worth of property damage.

Most African Americans resisted their attackers, as the NAACP advised them to do, and liberal whites organized to fight intolerance and to lobby for anti-lynching laws, but by and large African Americans were neither hopeful of remedy nor ready to campaign on their own behalf. Instead, by 1923, about half a million African Americans had joined the Universal Negro Improvement Association led by Marcus Garvey (18871940), a Jamaican Black nationalist who proposed to create a new empire in Africa with himself on the throne. Though Garvey's plans for an empire collapsed, his movement met the powerful African American need for self-identity, racial pride, and an escape from a society that denied them dignity, opportunity, and personal safety.

See also: Jim Crow Laws, Ku Klux Klan, Plessy v Ferguson, Slum


Grimshaw, Allen D., ed. Racial Violence in the United States. Chicago: Aldine Pub. Co., 1969.

Franklin, John Hope. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.

Nieman, Donald G. Promises to Keep : African-Americans and the Constitutional Order, 1776 to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Schaffer, Ronald. America in the Great War: The Rise of the War Welfare State. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Great Migration (1630–1640)

views updated Jun 11 2018


Soon after the establishment of the English colonies of Virginia and Massachusetts Bay in the early seventeenth century, floods of immigrants began arriving in both places. Although some of these immigrants (especially those in New England) arrived seeking freedom from religious persecution, many others in Virginia and New England came for economic reasonslooking for easy money from tobacco planting, or escape from a failing cloth market, inflation, and bad harvests. The immigrants, who came from a variety of social classes and occupations, arrived in relatively large numbers, averaging 4,000 each year. This migration strongly influenced the character of the newly established colonies and contributed to the development of long-lasting English institutions.

In the early part of the period, most of the English immigrants to the colonies headed for New England. There were several reasons for this: a sizeable number of them were religious non-conformists who objected to the governmentally enforced rites of the Church of England, and who came to Massachusetts Bay in whole congregations, ministers and all. They hoped to join or establish their own religious settlements as the Pilgrims had done before them. These same immigrants, however, faced economic as well as religious discrimination. They were mostly middle-class and well-educated, but were limited in the occupations they could pursue and were taxed more heavily than their Anglican neighbors. In addition, they faced rising prices and a depression in the cloth trade, which they had hoped to escape in the colonies. At the height of New England immigration in the 1630s, an average of 2000 English men, women, and children arrived in Massachusetts Bay colony each year. The Parliamentary victory in the English Civil War (16421649) eased pressure on nonconformists, and immigration to New England virtually stopped after 1640.

In the later part of the period, Virginia was the destination of many new settlers to the country. Before the 1640s, many of the Virginian immigrants were adventurers looking for a quick profit from the New World. After the establishment of tobacco as the colony's major product, however, the need for labor brought people to Virginia as indentured servants. Between 1635 and 1705, about 2000 persons arrived from England each year, most of them contractual laborers bound to serve Virginian planters without wages for a period of years, in exchange for their transportation to the colony. They ranged from lower-middle-class to laborers, but they all arrived with the idea of serving out their contracts and winning land of their own in the colony. Perhaps as much as 75 percent of Virginia's colonists by the end of the seventeenth century had originally arrived as indentured servants. Some of these came unwillingly, practically kidnapped by sea captains and labor contractors.

The other major group of immigrants to the colonies during the seventeenth century were Africans. From 1619when a Dutch warship brought the first load of African laborersto 1670, the African population of Virginia grew to more than 2000. At first, Africans were treated about the same as English indentured servants. Some Africans even managed to end their terms of servitude and buy and farm land of their own. But by about 1650 a color bar had risen that kept Blacks from sharing in colonial prosperity. Thus, one of the largest immigrant groups was effectively prevented from sharing the economic benefits of settling in America.

See also: Africans Arrive in Virginia, Indentured Servants


Anderson, Robert Charles. The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 16201633. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1995.

Anderson, Virginia DeJohn. New England's Generation: The Great Migration and the Formation of Society and Culture in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Bailyn, Bernard. The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.

Cowing, Cedric B. The Saving Remnant: Religion and the Settling of New England. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Ransome, David R. "'Shipt for Virginia': The Beginnings in 16191622 of the Great Migration to the Chesapeake." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, October, 1995.

Richard Hakluyt, Discourse of Western Planting, 1584">

"[i]nfinite numbers may be set to work" in america, "to the unburdening of the realm at home."

richard hakluyt, discourse of western planting, 1584.

Great Migration

views updated May 08 2018


GREAT MIGRATION. In March 1630, the Arbella set sail from Southampton, England, for America, thus beginning an unprecedented exodus of English men, women, and children to North America that lasted for ten years. Of the eighty thousand who left England between 1630 and 1640, approximately twenty thousand sailed to New England. The other emigrants sailed to the Chesapeake Bay region, the West Indies, and other areas.

Most but not all of the Great Migration immigrants to New England were Puritans from the eastern and southern counties of England who wanted to escape a situation they considered intolerable. King Charles I (reigned 1625–1649) dissolved Parliament and insisted on ruling England without interference. Archbishop William Laud, a staunch Anglican, began to purge the Church of England of Puritan members. Finally, a depression in the cloth industry caused economic stress in the counties where the Puritans lived. Hoping to flee this persecution and economic depression, the Puritans joined the ranks of those attempting to organize companies and obtain charters to establish colonies in the New World. The most successful of these companies, the Massachusetts Bay Company, received its charter from Charles I on 4 March 1629.

Although the Massachusetts Bay Company was organized as a joint-stock company, it had a dual purpose from the beginning. Some investors were interested in earning profits through trade, while others hoped to establish a colony that would provide a refuge for persecuted Puritans. Unlike the separatist Pilgrims who preceded them to the New World, the Puritans were nonseparating Congregationalists who hoped to reform the Church of England. Like the Pilgrims, however, they immigrated in family groups rather than as individuals. With the signing of the Cambridge Agreement in August 1629, twelve Puritan members of the Massachusetts Bay Company, led by the future governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, shifted the focus of the colony away from trade and in so doing secured a safe haven for Puritans in Massachusetts.

Less than a year after the signing of the Cambridge Agreement, Winthrop and approximately one hundred people set sail in the Arbella. The ship reached Salem, Massachusetts, in June 1630 and was soon joined by several more ships in the Winthrop fleet. The Puritans originally settled in Salem but relocated to Charlestown before finally founding a capital in Boston in October 1630. By the end of 1630, seventeen ships carrying close to two thousand passengers had arrived in Massachusetts. The Great Migration came to an abrupt halt in 1640, but by then almost two hundred ships carrying approximately twenty thousand people had left England for Massachusetts.


Fischer, David Hackett. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Pomfret, John E., with Floyd M. Shumway. Founding the American Colonies, 1583–1660. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

Jennifer L.Bertolet

See alsoCambridge Agreement ; Colonial Settlements ; Massachusetts Bay Colony ; Puritans and Puritanism .

Great Migration

views updated May 23 2018

Great Migration

Nine out of ten African Americans lived in the American South in 1900. By 1930, nearly three in ten lived outside the South. By 1970, about five in ten African Americans lived in the South, four in ten in the North, and one in ten in the West. This shift in African American population became known as the Great Migration. When people move from one geographic location to another, it is called migration.

Historians have debated the reasons African Americans failed to leave the South in greater numbers after they earned their freedom through the American Civil War (1861–65). It is commonly believed that former slaves remained in the South because that was the only lifestyle they had ever known. The North had become industrialized, with an economy dependent upon factories and business. Slaves had lived an agrarian lifestyle, one dependent on the land and agriculture. Although the prospect of finding work that paid a wage in the North attracted some former slaves, the migration was not as great as it might have been.

Later in the nineteenth century, millions of European immigrants sailed to America's shores to find work and build a life in the North. Without these immigrants to fill the many factory and industrial positions, African American southerners might have had a greater likelihood of finding work. World War I (1914–18) reduced immigration to the United States, and immigration laws passed in the 1920s further restricted immigration. As a result, southern African Americans migrated in greater numbers during this period.

The 1930s was a decade known as the Great Depression , when unemployment rates across the country were at a record high. Migration decreased during this time because jobs were scarce no matter where in the country one lived.

The decade between 1940 and 1950 saw the greatest migration of southern African Americans in history. World War II (1939–45) had a tremendous impact on American business, and as thousands of American men went overseas to fight, there was a major need for workers—both men and women, black and white—to maintain the wartime industries. In contrast to the Great Depression, this decade brought definite employment for anyone willing to trade an agricultural existence for an urban life.

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