The Great Migration / by kevin murray

The Emancipation Proclamation was implemented on January 1, 1863, legally freeing all slaves in any State that was still in rebellion against the Union.  The South was officially vanquished on April 9, 1865 with Lee's surrender at Appomattox.  Soon thereafter, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were ratified to our Constitution.  These Amendments eliminated slavery, made citizens of all native born peoples, and gave the vote to all men.  These Amendments in principle thereby gave all Constitutional rights to those that had previously been enslaved and treated as property.  Unfortunately, despite some initial progress for blacks after the Civil War, the South would rise again and essentially subjugate the blacks within their borders to conditions that were alike to slavery but not called slavery.  These became known as "Jim Crow" laws in which blacks were subjected to unequal treatment, arbitrary law, denied their civil liberties, and segregated from whites in employment, education, and social interaction.


It was during World War I that the beginning of the great migration was first enacted.  The industrialized north had relied upon immigration from Europe to fuel its needs but when the War began, that immigration from Europe came to a halt and with America officially entering the war in 1917 and having to build up its military forces and armaments for its own use and its allies, there was an acute labor shortage in the North.  This labor was fulfilled by recruiting blacks from the south and this recruitment became an exodus of over 400,000 blacks between the years of 1916 to 1918 that migrated from the South to the North, at a time in which the black population in the country as a whole was only about 8 million blacks.


It was these migrating blacks, the Northern newspapers such as "The Chicago Defender", and the trains that ran south to north, east to west, which became the foundations that would enable blacks to escape from the oppression of the South to the possibilities of the North.  Was the North that "promised land" that so many blacks had hoped for?  It was and it wasn't.  But at least in the North, there were no segregated trains, no segregated movie theaters, no segregated schools, and no lynching,   Additionally, in the North there were opportunities for employment, for home ownership, for voting, which simply didn't exist in the racist South.


In the North as well as the West, a diligent black man, reliable and with good work habits, was desired, employable, and could make a living wage despite the fact that he was limited to only certain jobs, often denied promotion, and was paid less than a white man for similar work.  Also in the North, a black man could own property in certain areas of the city, have a family that he could provide for and protect, and begin to become part of the American dream.  In the South, a black man could never truly be a man, because the South feared the black man and thereby oppressed, emasculated, and abused the black man because he was perceived as a threat to the Southern way.


It is a blessing though, that in America, people can vote with their feet.  Before the great migration around 87.5% of blacks lived in the South.  After the great migration ended, around 1970, it was about 50:50.  To leave your place of birth, to leave the only thing that you have ever known, to face the unknown and the uncertain, takes great courage and can put your very life in peril.  These men, women, and children that were part of this great migration are the true trailblazers and the forefathers of the civil rights that were achieved many years later.  We owe them a great debt of gratitude because their sacrifices came with much blood, sweat, and tears.