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The Great Migration Causes and Effects Essay

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Updated: Apr 8th, 2022

The period between 1910 and 1970 witnessed a massive movement of African-Americans from the United States’ rural south to the urban north (Spencer, 1987). Historians estimate that more than 6 million African-Americans were involved in this great exodus.

The United States’ population experienced a significant change during the Great Migration. New York and Chicago were some of the northern cities that witnessed the influx of African-Americans.

Before this migration, the population of African-Americans in these cities was only about 2 percent.

A clear demonstration of the changes caused by the Great Migration was the doubling of the number of African-Americans working in industries.

Causes

Several factors contributed towards The Great Migration. First, there was a worsening racial situation in the South especially due to the Jim Crow laws. This situation brought about educational, economic and social marginalisation.

Other factors were the pursuance of employment opportunities in the rapidly expanding industrial sector in the North and better education facilities (Johnson, 2012).

Moreover, the boll weevil infestation, coupled with the plummeting world cotton prices, adversely affected a large part of the Southern cotton fields forcing sharecroppers and labourers to migrate in search of alternative means of employment (Spencer, 1987).

Considering that this was an era of war, there were numerous opportunities in the North for African-Americans. In addition, the First World War and the Immigration Act of 1924 significantly minimised the movement of European immigrants to the burgeoning industrial centres of the North (Spencer, 1987).

As a result, there were more opportunities for African-Americans in various factories due to the need for labour to meet the increasing demand for industrial goods.

The 1927 Mississippi Floods also contributed to the Great Migration as they displaced a large number of African-American farmers and labourers.

Effects

Due to the massive movement of people to the North, there was a considerable increase in the demand for housing. This brought about hostility between the immigrants and the locals.

As a result, residential segregation gained favour in several cities with the motive of ensuring that blacks stayed away from the neighbourhoods that whites inhabited.

Even though the Supreme Court declared municipal residence segregation as unconstitutional, whites adopted a formal deed restriction, which bound the owners of white property in a particular neighbourhood not to sell to blacks (White, 2005).

Due to the restrictions regarding housing, several African-American neighbourhoods mushroomed in the cities. Harlem became the largest city predominantly inhabited by blacks.

The hostility between African-Americans and whites also presented itself in matters relating to employment. Whites, especially the working class, were afraid of the threat posed by the immigrants concerning labour.

Whites feared that African-Americans would negatively affect their pay rates and their ability to secure employment.

The whites’ tendency to protect what they considered as their territory created a racial divide that sometimes resulted in violence.

The Great Migration had a significant influence on various aspects of lives. The key areas concern language and culture due to the influx of people from different backgrounds.

As more African-Americans settled in the North, they transformed their rural lifestyle to fit into the urban culture and in the process introduced the black culture. Furthermore, the Great Migration had negative effects in the Southern states as the black population declined immensely in these states.

For example, in Mississippi and South Carolina, both of which experienced massive movements, the black population declined to about 35 percent by 1970s (Johnson, 2012).

References

Johnson, D. (2012). Important Cities in Black History. FactMonster.com. Retrieved from

Spencer, R. C. (1987). The Great Migration of Afro-Americans, 1915-40, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR. Retrieved from

White, K. (2005). Women in the Great Migration: Economic Activity of Black and White Southern-Born Female Migrants in 1920, 1940, and 1970. Social Science History, 29(3), 413-455.

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