Migration Causes and Patterns of African Americans Out of the South

The 1920’s were the best and the worst of times for Black people in America. It was the time of the great migration out of the South. Black people became tired of Jim Crow, segregation, and racist white people doing their best to work out their anger and frustration for losing the Civil War, on black people.

The end of the Civil War left the south devastated, they did not have the mental strength to endure hardship, so they selected a scapegoat to torture and torment. Black people had hundred of years of oppression and as a results had developed emotional and spiritual methods for survival. Black people were also able to find work in employment of those who had wealth. They knew how to scrub floor, care for children, operate businesses, and stick together in extended family relationships to share survival resources.

They had their own schools and churches and they knew how to stay out of the way of people who did not like them or want them around. There was however, a point where the oppression and the hatred became unbearable and there was a ground swelling of the feeling that it was time for a change. There were some who were putting forth the idea of returning to Africa and starting a new life back in the mother land; there was also the thinking that this land is the land of my ancestors, this is the land we know and have known for over three hundred years, and we were not willing to leave Egypt and wander in the wilderness for countless years. We created this land, we nursed the Founding Fathers with the milk from our breast, there was no land better than this land and it was our land. The knowledge of the North American continent and the awareness that the environment tended to influence behaviors, and people in other parts of the country did not act with the anger, hostility and violence experienced in parts of the south. There were stories of the promise land up north trickling down below the Mason Dixon line. There were also the Harriet Tubmans of the post slavery period  helping those who did not know the way to the northern star, and did not have the courage to take the first step. The advance guard was sent up to the northern cities as scouts and over ground railroad agents to develop maps and safe houses.

Eventually as homes were established, jobs secured and schools for the children, whole families decided to take what they could carry, sell their possession for family tickets and prepare to make the great migration out of the south into the north. They left by bus and by train empowered by the same courage that sustained them through years of slavery to survive at all cost.

Surprising was the reactions of the racist people in the south,  when they began to realize the reality that they were about to lose their valuable resource, their human resource capital, they began to panic. White sheriffs would stand and the railroad stations with guns and try to prevent people from boarding trains. Federal laws preventing the interference of interstate travel encouraged people to just walk over these desperate officers, pay the cost of the ticket and get on board. Well planned trip required families to pack their own food and necessities so as to cover any and all eventualities. This was also a great money venture for the railroads, and they were not going to prevent anyone or anything from interfering with commerce.

The mass migration of black people out of the south was around the same time that white people were running from the overwhelming poverty in European countries. Both black and whites were trying to escape oppression and around the same time and often to the same locations. The urban centers were the enculturation stations where immigrants learn how to be Americans, and migrants learned how to live free. The two groups often found themselves competing for the same resources. The black migration population had a big advantage over the Ellis Island immigrant, they could speak English, and they were American citizens. America did not have the category legal or illegal at that time, and a bill of good health and the price of a boat ticket could bring you to the land of opportunity. Both groups, the immigrant and the migrant were led to believe that the streets of New York City were paved in gold. They both soon learned that there was plenty of paving to do building bridged, roads and subways, and they would receive plenty of gold doing the paving. Blacks were able to secure employment working on ships and the railroad, and women were able to obtain employment as maids and school teachers. Language and citizenship were a big barrier to the immigrants and a benefit to the migrant. Immigrants often found themselves working in factories and construction, where language was not important, only the ability to demonstrate skills and follow directions.

These were the depression years and immigrants coming in through Ellis Island from southern Europe surrounded the migrating families from the south. Jewish, Italian and Irish families were struggling just to make ends meet. The ethnically diverse community of Harlem shared its resources with the multicultural inhabitants. Groups did not separate; they were in the same economic struggle together. Poverty did not discriminate during the depression years.

Individuals had to be creative to keep a roof over their heads. Men could be seen selling everything on the streets. Italian street vendors selling ice or fish from the back of a truck, Jewish men selling curtains and household ware from suitcases, Irish men struggling to make a living as policemen, while their wives contributed to the family by working as public school teachers. Men who were unable to find a hustle, could be seen selling apples or just abandoned their families altogether, and turn to the bottle to cope. Black families tended to fair a little better during the depression.


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