The great migration saw mass exodus of a whopping 7 million blacks from southern states in the US to the Midwest, Western and Northern states in America. This occurred between the periods of 1916 to 1970 (Arnesen 1). There was widespread practice of racism in the south with Whites enjoying the benefits of white collar jobs, goods schools for their children, conducive living environment, and political dominance. This pushed away the blacks who moved to the Northern, Midwest and Western states to seek employment into the industrial cities like Philadelphia, St. Louis, Baltimore and Chicago and other small cities. These blacks moved using railways since they were seeking cheap transport and this meant that it’s due to such reasons that their destinations varied. For example, those who migrated from Mississippi ended up in Chicago, and those from Texas moved with the trains and settled in Los Angeles (Arnesen 6).
This movement changed the demographic structures of the North; it is estimated that before the signing of the of the Emancipation Proclamation in the year 1863, the number blacks living in the Midwest or Northeast States of America was less than 8 % of the population (Arnesen 8). This number rose to 20 % between 1910 and 1930, and these were evident in cities like Cleveland, New York, and Detroit. This led to urban tension as the inflow of blacks meant competition between migrants from Europe and blacks for jobs. The movement of the blacks was characterized by individuals or family groups. There was, however, no assistance from the government and the recruitment of the blacks in the northern industries was only motivated by the need for labor (Arnesen 10). In the south from which the blacks were migrating, politics of whites-supremacy ruled, and the impact of dominant pro-slavery cohorts like Ku Klux Klan saw the oppression of the blacks in the south since they were the targeted in the slavery (Arnesen 10).
Some of the issues highlighted in the book as the causes of the great migration are: it was an attempt by blacks living in the south to escape from the jaws of slavery which was being imposed on them by the Jim Crow laws, hence they so it necessary to run and seek refuge in the northern states of America (Arnesen 21). Also, there was an outbreak of boll weevil in cotton fields in the south. Most of the farmworkers on such fields were blacks the infestation of the cotton field made them lose their jobs, and they moved to seek alternative employment opportunities in the north. With the existence of war industries that experienced tremendous expansions, employment opportunities were created hence blacks sought employment opportunities in such in service jobs. Also, the immigration act of 1924 and World War 1 brought to a stop the inflow of immigrants from Europe to America to work in the some of the industries that were emerging as at the time in the Midwest and the Northern states. Blacks hence moved to occupy the vacancies created by the shortage of workers. Lastly, with several farmers being displaced by the Great Mississippi floods, the black workers and farmers affected moved to industrial areas to look for alternative jobs (Arnesen 33).
Even though the great migration enabled blacks with education to secure jobs, the blacks faced discrimination from whites who feared that their employment was at risk since the blacks didn’t have the ability to negotiate good rates of pay and this could create stiff competition (Arnesen 36). Whites hence started to protect their territories as they saw blacks as invaders. The discrimination which the blacks were escaping from in the South was replicated in the North. There was mortgage discrimination, and as the whites easily owned houses, blacks and immigrants from Europe competed for the old houses since their numbers increased rapidly (Arnesen 31). The National Housing Act of 1943 resulted into the limiting of their loan advances to urban areas which were dominated by blacks as whites moved to the outskirts of towns where there was adequate and new housing (Arnesen 42).
The great depression of the 1930s made worse the already bad economic status of the blacks in America. With the depression hitting hard, African Americans became the first victims as they were fired from their jobs (Rauchway 3). It is estimated that the unemployment rate amongst the blacks was three times that of the whites. With various programs availed to assist the public, blacks received less as compared to the white counterparts; some charitable organizations openly ignored blacks in their programs. This economic struggle amongst the blacks led to a lot of political developments in the black’s societies. A national “jobs for Negroes” for example was a movement that was launched by the St. Louis Urban League in the year 1929 to advocate for jobs for the blacks (Rauchway 23). This movement boycotted chain stores which were characterized by predominantly black customers but in terms of employees, only had whites. In 1936, National Negro Congress and a year later, Southern Negro Youth Congress was founded (Rauchway 25). These were as a result of efforts to youth groups and also organizations that fought for the rights of the blacks.
In 1932, a year referred to as being bleakest in America, almost a quarter of the American population was not employed. President Roosevelt’s administration came to the rescue of the depression upon resuming office in 1933 (Rauchway 39). He put measures to stabilize the American economy and also moved fast to help those who were hard hit by the depression and also created job. He initiated several experimental programs and projects which ran for a period of eight years, these culminated into what was referred to as “The New Deal.” This also administration saw the rise of blacks politically. For example, there was a “black cabinet” in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration that formed part of his advisory team. Figures such as Mary McLeod Bethune, who was in this administration, was the director of Negro affairs (Rauchway 39). Others included Eugene K. Jones, Robert Vann, William H. Hastie and Robert C weaver. The chatting of the political destiny and economic muscles of the blacks started in earnest with this administration.
Even though Black Americans benefited from the new deal, discrimination was still common to come buy as administrator at the local level still discriminated against the blacks while favoring the whites (Rauchway 40). Programs were launched to avail low cost public housing to families of Black Americans. Through the efforts of Civil Conservation Corps and The National Youths Administration, the youths could now pursue their education. Jobs were also availed to the blacks through The Work Project Administration and the dominance of whites in jobs started to decrease. Also, a large number of blacks joined labor unions to champions for their rights, these were made possible through Congress of Industrial Organizations, a body which came into being in mid-1930s. More than 200, 000 blacks who were in the CIO as officers of the Union locals (Rauchway 48).
During the great migration, blacks suffered discrimination and their political and economic muscles were weak and could not allow them have a bargain chips with the whites. At the onset of the great depression before Roosevelt assumed power, blacks were the first victims of the great depression from losing employment to being denied access to public housing. However, the coming into power enabled African-American to get jobs, housing and also form labor unions.
Arnesen, Eric. Black protest and the great migration: A brief history with documents. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.
Rauchway, Eric. The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2008.