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The Great Migration in Context: The Chicago Experience, 1916–1918

Summary and Keywords

The unanticipated and massive migration of half a million African Americans between 1916 and 1918 from the racially oppressive South to the welcoming North surprised the nation. Directly resulting from the advent of the First World War, the movement of these able-bodied workers provided essential labor to maintain wartime production that sustained the Allied war effort. One-tenth of the people who surged north headed to and remained in Chicago, where their presence challenged the status quo in the areas of employment, external race relations, internal race arrangements, politics, housing, and recreation. Once in the Windy City, this migrant-influenced labor pool expanded with the addition of resident blacks to form the city’s first African American industrial proletariat. Wages for both men and women increased compared to what they had been earning in the South, and local businesses were ready and willing to accommodate these new consumers. A small black business sector became viable and was able to support two banks, and by the mid-1920s, there were multiple stores along Chicago’s State Street forming a virtual “Black Wall Street.” An extant political submachine within Republic Party ranks also increased its power and influence in repeated electoral contests. Importantly, upon scrutiny, the purported social conflict between the Old Settler element and the newcomers was shown to be overblown and inconsequential to black progress.

Recent revisionist scholarship over the past two decades has served to minimize the first phase of northward movement and has positioned it within the context of a half-century phenomenon under the labels of the “Second Great Migration” and the “Great Black Migration.” No matter what the designation, the voluntary movement of five to six million blacks from what had been their traditional home to the uncertainty of the North and West between the First World War and the Vietnam conflict stands as both a condemnation of regional oppression of the human spirit and aspirations of millions, and a demonstration of group courage in taking on new challenges in new settings. Although Chicago would prove to be “no crystal stair,” it was on many occasions a land of hope and promise for migrants throughout the past century.

Keywords: push-and-pull factors, Chicago Defender, Great Northern Drive, black proletariat, Black Wall Street, Second Great Migration

The voluntary migration of blacks abandoning the South between the years 1916 and 1918 represented a pivotal point in both American and African American history, ranking at the time as secondary in socially transformative significance only to the Emancipation. Labeled as the “Great Migration” for generations among academicics and laypersons, the movement of blacks in succeeding decades, from the 1920s through the 1960s, has led to both an intellectual reappraisal and relabeling, with titles such as the “Great Black Migration” or the “Second Great Migration.”1 This unprecedented phenomenon during the early 20th century proved to be the ultimate African American resistance to southern oppression, manifested through nonviolent yet assertive mass movement.

In the 19th century, the fight for freedom was manifested in “running away” to the North or to Canada before and during the Civil War—often in a small, continuous wave—or moving to Kansas and farther westward during the Reconstruction Era. In both instances, migration reflected dissatisfaction with the enforced subordinate status for blacks as slaves, accompanied by the intolerable conditions of place. Viewing black migration northward convinced the Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson in 1918 that he was witnessing a portion of a century of migration that had begun in the previous century. He penned A Century of Negro Migration to explain the event as an amazing episode in the transformation of the human condition.2

In the case of Chicago, the city’s strategic spatial presence as the nation’s major economic transfer center, along with its reputation as a humanitarian anchorage, were magnetic forces. The city appeared to be a haven for those seeking to attain greater freedom and enjoy material betterment in a diversified economic setting. On the cusp of the Great Migration, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote a paean in The Crisis that praised life in a viable black community exhibiting both growth and development. It clearly placed the extant black population of some 50,000 persons as already progressing along a path that was notable for its dynamism and triumph over adversities.3 Joining this resident population as a result of the impending Great Migration would be approximately 50,000 energized newcomers. They were a portion of the migration northward represented within a mass of approximately 500,000 people in toto journeying from the oppressive South to the alluring prosperous and democratic North, with approximately one-tenth of the aggregate settling in Chicago. Linked to the advent of the First World War, this trend did not end with the cessation of hostilities in Europe. It continued into the 1920s and onward, with more than 6 to 7 million persons migrating to the North and West, with 500,000 arriving in Chicago over a fifty-year period.

The contemporary sense of the phenomenon’s significance was uncontestable. It represented dual responses to a persistent dehumanizing existence in the South and hope for immediate remediation of attendant racial problems in the North. Contemporaries traditionally categorized this anticipation and reaction as expressed by two influences, one being centrifugal or “push,” and the other, centripetal or “pull.” Perhaps there is a need for an addition to the traditional “p’s”—the element of personality. On an individual basis, a person’s reasons for any distinct action might just be explainable by the character of one’s being, especially with the recognition today that black agency has been overlooked in the past. Historian Leon F. Litwack has described this proclivity toward individual and group assertiveness in his 1998 Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in The Age of Jim Crow. Litwack wrote about persons who would have filled the migrant ranks who felt an immediate need for greater control over and competency in life’s endeavors. This was a direct legacy of the release of pent-up assertiveness following emancipation.4

The southern migrants’ origins, experiences, motivations, and goals often proved complicated to comprehend. Although they were southerners by custom and had inclinations toward work, religious worship, and family organization, they never constituted a homogeneous amalgam. Females migrated as well as males, with the latter being numerically predominant. They traveled not only alone but also in families, in unrelated groups, and even as whole church congregations. Circumstances of habitation had them emerging from plantations as well as villages, towns, and cities. As evidenced in their varied physiognomy, their racial ancestry could be traced to Europe, Africa, and the diverse indigenous peoples of North America. This factor of mixed racial backgrounds shaped their outlooks of a possible future in the South as well as hopes for a better life in the North, where economic competition overshadowed secondary concerns such as skin complexion and lack of an industrial background. Numerous cases of blacks obtaining employment while “passing for white,” as part of the “invisible migration,” prove this point.

That there were inherent, as well as acquired, adaptive differences among the migrants was discernible to contemporaries Julius Rosenwald, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Charles S. Johnson. Africans’ tendency to adjust to changing circumstances once in America demonstrated an acute skill at adaptation.5 Chicago philanthropist Rosenwald observed the transformative influences of life in a northern city on migrants as well. The milieu that pervaded black Chicago was one that released individual assertiveness, leading to competitiveness. As assessed by Julius Rosenwald to A. Clement McNeal of the Chicago NAACP, “under Northern freedom, a Southern Negro does change.”6 On the occasion of Wells-Barnett’s death, a eulogizer reflected that she had assessed a variation in migrant thought and behavior, with some being able to break free from their acquiescence to previous southern norms, while others could not. Wells-Barnett “was a profound (student) of sociology. She knew that there were many who were doubtful of the natural equality of their race; that many were ashamed (of their origins and very being) … She knew that only a few people knew the Negro’s part in world history and culture and (their pursuit of) freedom & emancipation.”7 To correct these attitudes, she set about on her mission as a social activist and civic leader to convert them into proactive and responsible citizens, as noted sociologist Charles S. Johnson wrote, interested in assimilation and becoming “city Negroes.”8

Historian Lerone Bennett Jr. succinctly described their varied motivations. “They moved because the sheriff was mean, because the planters were mean, because life was mean. They were pushed by drought, boll weevils and tyranny, and they were pulled by the lure of employment in burgeoning wartime industries.”9 They had experienced hard, unrelenting work as a requirement for survival in a slave-driven society, one that was transformed after 1865 into a labor-intensive, peonage-dominated environment. They were rural workers for the most part, but with some industrial workers from Birmingham, New Orleans, Mobile, and elsewhere who were to be fully transformed into an industrial proletariat in Chicago’s modern, urbanized, industrial environment.10 For certain southern females with family values that prevented work outside the home, they managed to adjust to the new drudgeries, albeit seen as opportunities, offered in the service and domestic sectors.11

To the benefit of scholarship and posterity, and to understand the migration’s significance to the nation, the Carnegie Institute for Peace engaged Emmett J. Scott, the erudite former secretary to Booker T. Washington, to conduct research on this phenomenon. Scott assembled a research team composed of future notable African American scholars to conduct a major study on motivations and impact. Their significant and influential study helps to explain the continuity, causes, stimulation, and effects of the migration that took place during the First World War.12

Origins of the Great Migration

The precipitating cause of the “Great Migration” was a need to fill a labor shortage during time of war in order that America could maintain a high level of production of war materials for the Allies at war in Europe. This shortage of workers resulted in the expedience of inducing black workers to shift from their region of provenance in the South to a region of wartime labor needs in the North. One rarely cited incentive was that which involved the federal government initially through the Department of Labor, which lasted only for a very short period because of white southern resistance. Individual northern firms proved more persistent in pursuit of black labor, especially from Chicago’s vast stockyards, which sent agents into the South seeking workers, sometimes with free rail passes. This factor among others, along with the desire to work for reasonable wages, propelled economically exploited southern labor northward. Accordingly, the employers’ success was to be manifested in a changed stockyards workforce that by 1920 was near predominantly African American.

Even without a central leadership that marked the 1878 exodus to the West, an indigenous set of leaders and collective efforts spurred and directed movement away from the economic and social oppression of the South.13 At the same time, the crusading Chicago Defender newspaper, with its national circulation, played a major part in fomenting sensitivity among southern blacks to the need for racial liberation. Centripetally, the paper’s influence served as a major pull factor attracting African Americans to a land of hope and promise. Its basic attitude toward life in the South found that region totally inhospitable and unsuitable for raising a family, aspiring and achieving goals, or to experiencing any sense of personal freedom. In its attitudes toward life in the North, particularly in Chicago, the newspaper communicated an admiration that added to the region’s attractiveness. Personally, Abbott had enjoyed his first trip to the North during the World’s Columbian Exposition held in 1893, and he was so mesmerized by the city he returned almost immediately. He translated this affection toward the nation’s blacks. They, in turn, corresponded about their innermost aspirations, fears, and perceptions, providing an excellent pool of data in their letters from which to extrapolate what W. E. B. Du Bois described as the meanings of “their daily lives and longings … their homely joys and sorrows … [and] their real shortcomings.”14 Abbott’s enthusiasm grew to a point that led him to declare May 15, 1917, as an anointed day for a mass exodus, the day of the “Great Northern Drive.”15

The centrifugal or push factors of southern discrimination, segregation, and overt terrorism that included lynchings, beatings, rapes, and other public humiliations, along with economic deprivation, provided more than enough in the way of disincentives to prompt individual and mass departures. The combination of significant push-and-pull factors, along with the agency accompanying a personality model emanating from a collective consciousness, contributed as the necessary conditions to spur a migration of this magnitude that occurred during this short period of time.

The Great Migration to Chicago

The Great Migration dramatically affected the character of life in Chicago’s several black enclaves dramatically. These transformative features were evidenced in several areas, first in race relations, next in labor relations, and then in housing or a hegemonic neighborhood stratagem. According to St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, the Great Migration ended the supposed “golden age of [inter]race relations.”16 At the same time, the Great Migration extended a “golden age of intra-racial relations” among members of a variegated migrant mass, including Old Settlers and the newest newcomers of 1916–1918. While much of the anecdotal testimony in support of the former belief represented retrospective myth to Drake and Cayton, an expanding black population did profoundly alter relationships between blacks and the whites, dramatically changing the basic economic and social structure of the black community. In 1910 Negroes formed a small, almost insignificant, part of the city’s life. By 1920 there were enough to attract attention as the black population grew to 4.1 percent of the city’s total, and the rapidity of the influx merely exacerbated white racial apprehensions.17

The epochal Great Migration that took place, according to Drake, “represented the transfer of a large population from participation in a caste-system to participation in a social order characterized by greater social mobility, less economic subordination, and a system of ideas which did not sanction the ‘fixing’ of the Negroes’ status. Such as system reconditioned them, and they, in turn, modified it (in tandem with the exiting, residential black population).”18

Indeed, the dynamic impact of this newest wave of migrants overshadowed the forgotten phenomenon of melding, or their internal assimilation, into the African American population already there.

What transpired in this melding between older and newer components was a process of comingling of blood and of communal, experiential, and religious ties. Its first manifestation appeared in the high level of racial consciousness noted by contemporary academic and lay observers in abundance.19 As to intra-racial relations, the ability of African Americans to coalesce into a kind of highly conscious whole, based on shared cultural proclivities, produced a level of collaboration in reaching a collective goal of racial progress so that by the 1920s, great progress in political, business, and cultural matters resulted in the emergence of Chicago’s Black Metropolis. It is nowadays a historical model used to examine and understand all large urban concentrations.

It has been written that the bulk of the migrants came to the city from the Africanized folk culture of the rural South where the daily round was timed by what one eminent anthropologist has called “the great clocks of the sky,” and where the yearly rhythm of life was set by the cultivation of cotton and sugarcane. Their first task was to adjust themselves to a modern industrial city, in which they substituted the clock for the sun and the discipline of the factory for that of the agricultural cycle. It meant, too, an adjustment to a complex world with a wide variety of associations and churches, and a multitude of recreational outlets and new opportunities in industry, business, and politics.

Fortunately for later generations, the character of this ever-expanding mass of humanity was explored in the exhaustive 1927–1928 work of renowned sociologist E. Franklin Frazier who examined all dimensions of group life through data for the census year 1920, along with acute observation and interpersonal contacts. Frazier’s contribution on family life as it existed in its various dimensions of class, occupation, age, residence, and marital status throughout the city resulted in his first tome, The Negro Family in Chicago, published shortly after the decade ended.20 Decades later, historian Herbert G. Gutman, in his study of the black family in slavery and freedom, established that the social integrity overall of the migrating family to the North possessed the needed resiliency to remain intact and functional.21

The Great Migration significantly provided the key components of demographic mass, melding all segments of the latter into a unified group, and group consciousness, qualifying as necessary conditions for and collectively establishing the foundation for the emergence of Chicago’s black-controlled enclave, the Black Metropolis. The arrival of the migrants supplied the potential to provide the synergy needed to propel black Chicago along toward its dream of black control over and independence within its own residential and commercial district. That confluence depended on a high level of cooperation and amiability between different groups of African Americans with varying degrees of cultural affinity and within variegated stages of assimilation into American mainstream life.

Previously in Chicago, in the sphere of employment, opportunities were always limited. Not unexpectedly, African Americans predominated in domestic and personal service. Old Settlers, with a tendency to romanticize the pre-migration period, consistently minimized the extent of the job discrimination before the war. That it was a reality, however, is evident from examination of the few careful studies that are available for that period, including an investigation in 1913 by the Juvenile Protective Association. In its The Colored People of Chicago, there is the reference to “the tendency of the employers who use colored persons at all in their business to assign them to the most menial labor.” It was asserted that “the colored laborer is continually driven to lower kinds of occupation which are gradually being discarded by the white man.” Likewise, the larger corporations were accused of refusing to employ African Americans.

Noted sociologist Charles S. Johnson noted a difference in attitudes among African Americans toward these employment restrictions. “The Negroes who had come to Chicago [during the period of the Great Migration] as a rule were satisfied with conditions at work, including hours, wages, and treatment. Among the Negroes who had lived in Chicago for a longer period the most insistent complaint was lack of opportunities for advancement of promotion.”22

Some migrants were to be found among the ranks of the Pullman porters, joining black Chicagoans of longer residency now as one of the two largest labor groups among blacks. According to the first formal account of the porters, written by historian Brailsford R. Brazeal, the passage of time had already phased out the first wave of workers along with their thinking about work and their externally assigned status. Through the following years, the ranks of the Pullman porters absorbed a new wave of workers who were more assertive and willing to challenge authority and their status. Such a generational difference implied a variance in mindset toward both work and race relations. In the white mind, especially in the eyes of the transnational railroad-riding public, where sometimes the only interracial contact most whites had with blacks existed, the white perception served as the only valid image of these workers and of all African Americans. While the original generation of porters might have acquiesced emphatically to the racist whims of a manipulative company as well as the white public in general, this new breed in the early 20th century accepted the demands of their employment status more begrudgingly and with a steady eye to self-transformation.23 Where the newest migrants stood in terms of acquiescence or assertiveness is conjectural, but by the 1920s they would encounter the aggressive recruiting campaign of the militant Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters with Chicago as a hub of that union’s activism.

Beyond the thousands of Pullman porters and other workers in the service field, within the new industrial-labor sphere, the southern migrants reacted enthusiastically to the economic opportunities and the freer atmosphere of the North. Circumstantially, Carter G. Woodson observed that “the present migration differs from others in that the Negro has opportunity awaiting him … whereas formerly it was necessary for him to make a place for himself upon arriving among enemies.” As Chicago resident and journalistic observer Claude A. Barnett wrote specifically of Chicago, “[the Great Migration] brought Colored workers north in large numbers to invade fields that were new to them (emphasis added).”24

It was stated that while most labor unions did not refuse to accept African American members, some consistently denied work opportunities to African Americans after they had accepted their initiation fees and dues. These charges were thoroughly documented, and the conclusion was drawn that African Americans were gradually being “crowded into undesirable and underpaid occupations.”25 Historian James R. Grossman has explained that this refusal by whites to accept blacks into union brotherhood led to marked black resistance.26

If ever a limited span of time warranted labeling as an epoch, it was the years 1916 through 1918 and up to the end of 1919. Significantly, the occupational as well as social statuses of African American men and women underwent transformation as they moved from the domestic and service spheres into the industrial domain. In becoming an industrial proletariat for the first time of their lengthy settlement in Chicago, their demographic invisibility faded into competitive notoriety. Chicago, city of “Big Shoulders, Hog Butcher for The World,” now included more African Americans among its ranks than ever before in its short history. Racial consciousness and a thirst for a change in status grew among these black Chicagoans who quickly acclimated themselves to their new environment, the transformed attitudes of their kin, and the invigorating New Negro thinking.

While the city’s first black industrial proletariat was composed mainly of the rural unskilled, their ranks also contained a smattering of urbanized, skilled, and professional groups, along with some children. Previously Pullman porters in the service sector constituted 20 percent of the male workforce and proved a dominant social force in black Chicago. Now in this succeeding period, packinghouse workers constituted 25 percent of that labor constituency in that industrial arena. Also, the Great Migration not only provided northern factories with needed labor, but also germinated animosities that led to increased racial tension between whites and blacks as job placement, housing, recreational space, and political choice became flashpoints for conflict. However, it also provided the races an opportunity to work together in a milieu in which labor peace produced a larger black union membership than ever before as well as economic advancement. Residential areas where racial harmony existed, it was due to the minimal residential footprint left by blacks. An awareness also existed on the part of city government, especially in the Health and Police Departments, indicating that policy changes were underway that would improve the lives of all of the city’s citizenry had to be developed and implemented, and that was a positive step forward. While blacks and whites conflicted over recreational space, both races enjoyed the spectacle of baseball as produced by the all-black Chicago American Giants, and high school sports still pitted skilled athletes of both races in competition. For the litmus test of interracial harmony and progress to be met in Chicago, the city would have to experience a cessation in residential bombings, school-level tensions, personal assaults, clashes at military training camps, and job conflicts.

Competition over housing led to tensions between the races, but also the development of a sense of territorial prerogative among blacks that produced the Black Metropolis of the 1920s. Just as other non–Anglo-Saxon newcomers to the city sought solace and revitalization of their familiar cultural moorings by establishing their enclaves—Polonia for the Poles, Little Italy, the Maxwell Street colony for eastern European Jews, Chinatown, the Irish in Bridgeport, the Swedes in Andersonville. The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 was one consequence of ethnic and racial jockeying for desirable space with violence and tragic deaths serving as a combined means to protect one’s turf. This major racial confrontation resulted in thirty-eight fatalities (twenty-five were black; thirteen were white), hundreds of injuries, and thousands of dollars of property damage. A maladministration of justice followed until the black community asserted itself, bringing both white and black perpetrators of mayhem and violence forward to account for their offenses. As devastating as the event was, it established among blacks a sense of worth in having protected themselves against white assault in a manner found to be impossible in the South, while solidifying a higher level of group solidarity that was manifested in politics, business, and purpose.27

The migrants’ entry into the Black Belt within a period of ten years swelled the membership of all existing organizations to the bursting point. Olivet Baptist Church could claim a membership of 10,000 members, making it perhaps the largest Protestant church in the nation. As groups of migrants found their congenial intellectual and social levels, old organizations accepted new members; additional units of older associations and churches were formed; and new types of organizations came into being. Old social patterns, too, were often modified by the migrants who brought their southern customs. Leaders sometimes had to shift their appeals and techniques to deal with the newcomers. New leaders poured up from the South to both challenge and supplement or attempt to supplant the indigenous leadership. The migrants found a functioning political machine in the Black Belt that welcomed their participation as well. From the South, where they were disfranchised, they came to a community where the African American vote was not only permitted but actually cultivated as the First Congressional District of Illinois soon gained a reputation as the most effectively run Republican political unit in the nation.28

The Consequences of the Great Migration

The remarkable demographic increase in the African American population of Chicago in 1910–1920 of 148.5 percent and 1916–1919 of 86 percent was matched in significance by the increase in population from 109,458 persons in 1920 to 233,903 persons in 1930. In and of itself, Jazz Age migration represented an increase of 114 percent over the 1920s. Whenever a demographic milepost was reached during the 20th century, it now indicated an almost automatic increase. Reductions in the labor force added to a national recession at the war’s end, affecting the employment status of black workers adversely, but not demographic increase.

In 1921, the population had climbed to 121,902 as the magnetism of life in Chicago continued to beckon black southerners. By 1923, the increase resulted in 146,791 of old and new black residents. Some black newcomers expressed the sentiment that Chicago offered them a hope not found elsewhere or under any other circumstances. One man responded resolutely when confronted with high joblessness in Chicago, “I also know that there is no work in Mississippi, and I had rather be out of work in Chicago than out of work in Mississippi.”29

The Great Migration was highly consequential in that it returned the American problem of race to a national scale, the first since the nation relieved itself of the burden of slavery during the post-Revolutionary period. It produced a major transformation within the national labor force in that the newly formed industrial proletariat of post–Civil War days took on diverse color tones for the first time. The Great Migration established the foundation of Chicago’s African American industrial working class as well. The comments of Chicago communist spokesman Harry Haywood during the Depression emphasized the character of the work force: “Chicago is one of most industrial cities for blacks.”30 Thousands of black workers, some with industrial experience, had entered a sector of Chicago’s economy that had been virtually closed to blacks previously.

And, contrary to popular belief that supposed that all migrants arrived penniless, the Great Migration brought some persons with disposable income, along with their furniture and other household belongings. Their presence increased the business base, aiding in the emergence of Black Wall Street and expanding the level of consumerism at a time of reported national prosperity.31 In Chicago it heightened political participation to a level where the black electorate became an important cog in Republican Party politics, and in later days, within the Democratic Party, laying the groundwork for the election of the first black congressman in the 20th century, along with the first black female senator and first African American president.

Discussion of the Literature

The literature of the period 1935–1950 influenced perspectives on what had been a signal event in the nation’s history. Writers within the Chicago School of Sociology at the University of Chicago took the lead in examining the impact of migration and subsequently influenced other forms of scholarship, and even literature. The late Robert Bone noted that this was significant because literary figures “wrote repeatedly of the Great Migration, and of the transformation that it wrought in the black community. They wrote of the pathology that was too often the price of adjustment to the urban scene. And they celebrated the common folk of Bronzeville as they accommodated to the conditions of urban life.”32 Most notable among the scholarship was St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton’s Black Metropolis, published in 1945. It assumed the status of a tome, and its influence is still cited as the model of urban life.33

While the 1960s had witnessed the fascination of social scientists and lay writers with the black community emerging as one big “Negro Ghetto,” an environment lacking solutions to its problems, a different view was presented through new research by St. Clair Drake. Many of the Great Migration’s sojourners had produced families that constituted the core of black Chicago’s expanding middle class and elite. The renowned scholar was able to show another side of black life as he updated Black Metropolis beginning in 1961, and again in 1969.34

Additional historiographical influences from the 1960s, and extending into the 1990s, made a dramatic impact as well. Under the influences of the literary and scholarly discovery of the “Negro Ghetto,” coupled with the continued migration northward of black southerners and the widespread urban rebellions, the “Great Migration” was now repositioned as part of the “Great Black Migration” or the “Second Great Migration” extending from World War II until the Vietnam War era.35 Emanating from the print and electronic media as well as scholarly circles, a process of remolding unfolded, at times challenging the relevance of the existential accounts of the World War I exodus. With the nation’s awareness of the formally recognized “ghetto,” lay writers imagined it in their unfolding answer to change in the racial demographics of their day. This was the case, particularly in the North’s large urban centers. What had been a short yet explosive burst of demographic transformation during the First World War among one on the nation’s most noticed, yet maligned, ethnic/racial groups now was envisioned as a continuous surge covering roughly five decades.

Among scholars, historian James R. Grossman explored the features of pre–Great Migration migrants and those of the First World wartime flood in terms that explained more clearly changed circumstances, indigenous southern motivations, and localized initiatives.36

And, although 1992 brought the most incisive scholarly treatment of migration to Chicago, detailed in Grossman’s Land of Hope, journalists likewise developed a new take on the migratory urge. They expanded it past World War II into the 1960s. Beginning with Atlantic Monthly writer Nicholas Lemann’s The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (1992) and subsequently with Isabell Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, the Great Migration now became a half-century phenomenon.

Lemann’s The Promised Land focused on the mechanization of the South’s economy that acted as a major push factor, propelling blacks northward. Although newer and more efficient mechanization partially explained the migratory urge, the resurgent pull factor of global war likewise acted to produce greater job opportunities and better pay in the North. This increase in economic advantages continued until globalization resulted in de-industrialization during the 1960s. In combination, centripetal and centrifugal forces accounted for the migration of six and a half million black people from the South to the North between 1910 and 1970, with five million migrating after the mechanization of cotton production and global conflict.

Another comprehensive as well as salutary treatment followed with Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, appearing in print in 2014. This insightful, alternative view resulted from her research into her family’s quest for identity as former migrants. Wilkerson added a more humanizing dimension to the story of World War II migration up to the present, in which both the horrors of the South and the disappointments and challenges found in the North were illuminated.

Primary Sources

Binder, Carroll. Chicago and the New Negro. Chicago: The Chicago Daily News, 1927.Find this resource:

    Du Bois, W. E. B. “Colored Chicago.” The Crisis 10 (September 1915): 234–242.Find this resource:

      De Koven Bowen, Louise. The Colored People of Chicago. Chicago: The Juvenile Protective Association 1913.Find this resource:

        E. Franklin Frazier, “Chicago: A Cross-Section of Negro Life.” Opportunity 7 (March 1929): 70–73.Find this resource:

          Johnson, Charles S., and Chicago Commission on Race Relations. The Negro in Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1922.Find this resource:

            Johnson, Charles S. “These Colored United States, Illinois: Home of the Migrant Mob.” Messenger 5 (1923): 926–928, 933.Find this resource:

              Sandburg, Carl. The Chicago Race Riots. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1919.Find this resource:

                Scott, Emmett J. “Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916–1918.” Journal of Negro History 4 (July 1919): 290–340.Find this resource:

                  Scott, Emmett J. “More Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916–1918.” Journal of Negro History 4 (October 1919): 412–465.Find this resource:

                    Scott, Emmett J. Negro Migration during the War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1920.Find this resource:

                      Woodson, Carter G. A Century of Negro Migration. Washington, DC: The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Inc., 1918.Find this resource:

                        Supplementary Sources

                        Drake, St. Clair. Churches and Voluntary Associations in the Chicago Negro Community. Chicago: Work Projects Administration, 1940.Find this resource:

                          Drake, St. Clair, and Horace R. Cayton. Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1945.Find this resource:

                            Frazier, E. Franklin. The Negro Family in Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1932.Find this resource:

                              Henri, Florette. Black Migration, 1900–1920. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1975.Find this resource:

                                Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.Find this resource:

                                  Marks, Carol. Farewell—We’re Good and Gone: The Great Black Migration. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.Find this resource:

                                    Reed, Christopher Robert. The Rise of Chicago’s Black Metropolis, 1920–1929. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011.Find this resource:

                                      Sernett, Milton C. Bound for the Promised Land: African American Religion and the Great Migration. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

                                        Strickland, Arvarh E. History of The Chicago Urban League. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1967.Find this resource:

                                          Trotter Joe William, Jr., ed. The Great Migration in Historical Perspective. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.Find this resource:

                                            Tuttle, William M., Jr. Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919. New York: Atheneum, 1972.Find this resource:

                                              Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. New York: Random House, 2011.Find this resource:

                                                Further Reading

                                                Baldwin, Davarian L. Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.Find this resource:

                                                  Bone, Robert. “Richard Wright and the Chicago Renaissance.” Callaloo Issue 28 (Special summer issue 1986): 452.Find this resource:

                                                    Chatelain, Marcia. South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

                                                      Binder, Carroll. Chicago and the New Negro. Chicago: The Chicago Daily News, 1927.Find this resource:

                                                        Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt. “Colored Chicago.” The Crisis 10 (September 1915): 234–242.Find this resource:

                                                          De Koven Bowen, Louise. The Colored People of Chicago. Chicago: The Juvenile Protective Association 1913.Find this resource:

                                                            Drake, St. Clair. Churches and Voluntary Associations in the Chicago Negro Community. Chicago: Work Projects Administration, 1940.Find this resource:

                                                              Drake, St. Clair, and Horace R. Cayton. Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1945.Find this resource:

                                                                Frazier, E. Franklin. The Negro Family in Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1932.Find this resource:

                                                                  Frazier, E. Franklin. “Chicago: A Cross-section of Negro Life.” Opportunity 7 (March 1929): 70–73.Find this resource:

                                                                    Gregory, James N. “The Second Great Migration: An Overview.” In Africa American Urban History Since World War II. Edited by Kenneth L. Kusmer and Joe Trotter, 19–38. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.Find this resource:

                                                                      Gregory, James N. The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migration of Black and White Southerners Transformed America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.Find this resource:

                                                                        Grossman, James R. Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.Find this resource:

                                                                          Gutman, Herbert G. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750–1925. New York: Pantheon Books, 1975.Find this resource:

                                                                            Johnson, Charles S., and Chicago Commission on Race Relations. The Negro in Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1922.Find this resource:

                                                                              Johnson, Charles S. “These Colored United States, Illinois: Home of the Migrant Mob.” Messenger 5 (1923): 926–928, 933.Find this resource:

                                                                                Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.Find this resource:

                                                                                  Litwack, Leon F. Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in The Age of Jim Crow. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.Find this resource:

                                                                                    Reed, Christopher Robert. Knock at the Door of Opportunity: Black Migration to Chicago, 1900–1919. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

                                                                                      Scott, Emmett J. “Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916–1918.” Journal of Negro History 4 (July 1919): 290–340.Find this resource:

                                                                                        Scott, Emmett J. “More Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916–1918.” Journal of Negro History 4 (October 1919): 412–465.Find this resource:

                                                                                          Scott, Emmett J. Negro Migration during the War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1920.Find this resource:

                                                                                            Spear, Allan H. Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.Find this resource:

                                                                                              Strickland, Arvarh E. History of the Chicago Urban League. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1967.Find this resource:

                                                                                                Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. New York: Random House, 2011.Find this resource:

                                                                                                  Woodson, Carter G. A Century of Negro Migration. Washington, DC: The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Inc., 1918.Find this resource:

                                                                                                    Notes:

                                                                                                    (1.) Noted historian David Levering Lewis refers to the phenomenon as “The Great Black Migration” in the endorsements section for Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (New York: Random House, 2011), n.p. To James N. Gregory, it is “The Second Great Migration,” in Africa American Urban History Since World War II, eds. Kenneth L. Kusmer and Joe Trotter (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 19.

                                                                                                    (2.) Carter G. Woodson, A Century of Negro Migration (Washington, DC: The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Inc., 1918), 174; and Claude A. Barnett, “We Win a Place in Industry,” Opportunity 6 (March 1929): 82.

                                                                                                    (3.) W. E. B. Du Bois, “Colored Chicago,” The Crisis, September 1915, 234–242.

                                                                                                    (4.) Leon F. Litwack, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in The Age of Jim Crow (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), esp. 149–116.

                                                                                                    (5.) Herbert Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1775–1925 (New York: Pantheon, 1974), xxi, 465.

                                                                                                    (6.) Julius Rosenwald to A. Clement McNeal, December 26, 1919, Julius Rosenwald Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Regenstein Library, University of Chicago.

                                                                                                    (7.) “Tribute,” March 30, 1931, Irene McCoy Gaines Papers, Special Collections, Chicago History Museum.

                                                                                                    (8.) Charles S. Johnson, “The Frontage on American Life,” in The New Negro, ed. Alain Locke (New York: Boni and Sons, 1925), 285.

                                                                                                    (9.) Leone Bennett Jr., Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 1982), 344.

                                                                                                    (10.) See contemporary documentation found in Emmett J. Scott, “Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916–1918,” Journal of Negro History 4 (July 1919): 290–340; and Scott, “More Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916–1918,” Journal of Negro History 4 (October 1919): 412–465.

                                                                                                    (11.) Sylvia Woods, “If I Had Known Then What I Know Now,” in The Black Women in the Middle West Project: A Comprehensive Resource Guide, eds. Darlene Clark Hine et al. (Indianapolis: The Black Women in the Middle West Project, 1985), 21.

                                                                                                    (12.) Emmett C. Scott, Negro Migration during the War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1920).

                                                                                                    (13.) See Scott, Negro Migration during the War, 6; and James R. Grossman, Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

                                                                                                    (14.) Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Alfred A. Knopf and Co., 1976), 110. Had Du Bois been writing about Chicago’s Black Belt and its satellite communities instead of Georgia’s Black Belt, he well might have added their many achievements, despite adversity. Major, contemporary, highly informative documentation is to be found in Scott, “Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916–1918” and “More Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916–1918,” along with Scott, Negro Migration during The War.

                                                                                                    (15.) Christopher Robert Reed, Knock at the Door of Opportunity: Black Migration to Chicago, 1910–1919 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University press, 2014), 224.

                                                                                                    (16.) St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1945), 825, and reference to the 1953 Mayor’s Commission on Human Relations, 24.

                                                                                                    (17.) Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, 75.

                                                                                                    (18.) St. Clair Drake, Churches and Voluntary Associations in the Chicago Negro Community (Chicago: Work Projects Administration, 1940), 136, 137. See also E. Franklin Frazier, “Chicago: A Cross-Section of Negro Life,” Opportunity 7 (March 1929): 70–73.

                                                                                                    (19.) Charles S. Johnson, E. Franklin Frazier, Carroll Binder, Frederick H. H. Robb, Ralph J. Bunche, and George F. Robinson Jr. were all impressed with this phenomenon, to echo its relevance and influence throughout the decade of the 1920s. While a University of Chicago doctoral candidate, E. Franklin Frazier was completing his 1929 study entitled The Negro Family in Chicago (later appearing in book form as The Negro Family in Chicago [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1932]), Chicago Daily News journalist Carroll Binder published a pamphlet exploring black life in the city as The Negro in Chicago (Chicago: Chicago Daily News, 1927). A decade later, Frazier continued his examination of the nexus between occupation and class in “Occupational Classes of Negroes in Cities,” American Journal of Sociology 35 (March 1930): 718–738.

                                                                                                    (20.) Frazier further expanded his work beyond Chicago into other northern cities and published The Negro Family in the United States in 1939. Both as a detached scholar mingling freely among the populace and as a participant-observer, Frazier matched the abilities of University of Chicago scholars who preceded him—Monroe Nathan Work, Richard R. Wright Jr., and Charles S. Johnson. While studying the history of the formation of the black community with its many complexities, a valuable and more accurate history of a socially and economically differentiated group within a community was being uncovered, although its internal dynamics were generally overlooked in the latter part of the 20th century.

                                                                                                    (21.) Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, xxi, 465.

                                                                                                    (22.) Charles S. Johnson and Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1922), 387.

                                                                                                    (23.) See Litwack, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in The Age of Jim Crow, esp. 149–163.

                                                                                                    (24.) Woodson, A Century of Negro Migration, 174; and Barnett, “We Win a Place in Industry,” 82.

                                                                                                    (25.) De Koven Bowen, The Colored People of Chicago (Chicago: The Juvenile Protective Association 1913), n.p.

                                                                                                    (26.) James R. Grossman, “The White Man’s Union: The Great Migration and the Resonance of Race and Class in Chicago,” in The Great Migration in Historical Perspective, ed. Joe William Trotter Jr. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 85.

                                                                                                    (27.) See Johnson and Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago; Carl Sandburg, The Chicago Race Riots (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1919); Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis; William M. Tuttle Jr., Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 (New York: Atheneum, 1972); and Reed, Knock at the Door of Opportunity and The Chicago NAACP and the Rise of Black Professional Leadership, 1910–1966 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997).

                                                                                                    (28.) Reed, Knock at the Door of Opportunity: Black Migration to Chicago, 190.

                                                                                                    (29.) Arvarh E. Strickland, History of the Chicago Urban League (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1967), 72.

                                                                                                    (30.) Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist (Chicago: Liberator Press, 1978), 442.

                                                                                                    (31.) Binder, Chicago and the New Negro (Chicago: The Chicago Daily News, 1927), 11.

                                                                                                    (32.) Robert Bone, “Richard Wright,” Callaloo (Summer 1986): 452.

                                                                                                    (33.) There are limits to the interpretations and presentation of Black Metropolis that stem from its being written from a sociological perspective; a contradictory and much more detailed perspective is offered from the historical ranks. See Christopher Robert Reed, The Rise of Chicago’s Black Metropolis, 1920–1929 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011).

                                                                                                    (34.) See the new preface, postscript, and appendix of the Harper Torchbook editions (1962 and 1969) of Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis. As valuable as the original data in the 1945 edition are, the information from the 1960s is of immense scholarly value to see the changes wrought by both time and African American agency.

                                                                                                    (35.) See note 1.

                                                                                                    (36.) Grossman, Land of Hope. See also Binder, Chicago and the New Negro; De Koven Bowen, The Colored People of Chicago; Johnson and Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago; Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis; Frazier, “Chicago: A Cross-Section of Negro Life,” 70–73, and The Negro Family in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1939).