Black History Month: The Great Migration That Took From The South and Colored The North

February 15, 2011  |  

If you live in New York, Chicago, Detroit or Oakland, you’ve probably noticed that most African-American adults that you know have parents or grandparents who hail from the South. Once upon a time, before the turn of the 20th century, most Blacks lived in Southern belt states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. By the time the U.S. was engaged in World War I, the demography of African-Americans had changed dramatically along with the changing demands of the American economy.

Between 1910 and 1930, nearly 2 million Blacks left the South for better opportunities in factory jobs in the North and to boycott the South and its burdensome Jim Crow laws. This period was known as the First Great Migration. The Second Great Migration occurred between 1940 and 1970 when 5 million Blacks left the South for California primarily.

In 1910, the African American population of Detroit was 6,000. By the start of the Great Depression in 1929, this figure had risen to 120,000. Like migrants to other industrial centers, those who arrived in Detroit had dreams of jobs with General Motors and Dupont.  Some had heard about Henry Ford’s 1914 promise of $5 per day for his workers. Although some experts say that Blacks had a slight pay differential with their white counterparts, the company did break ground as a major employer, hiring its first Black employee in 1914. By 1918, blacks were employed as supervisors and foremen although there were very few who even got jobs.

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