The Great Migration

Primary Source Set

The turn of the twentieth century is often referred to as the nadir of race relations in the United States. Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and other forms of racial violence plagued the southern region of the country. Moreover, the cotton industry was severely affected by the boll weevil, a cotton-eating insect; the weevils’ consumption of cotton crops hurt the southern economy and eliminated many of the agricultural jobs held by African Americans. Consequently, the South became a place of economic and racial turmoil, and African Americans were desperate to find some relief. The promise of jobs in northern factories during World War I provided African Americans an opportunity to escape the harsh realities of the South. Between 1910 and 1930, approximately 1.6 million African Americans left the South to pursue opportunities in the Northern and Midwestern states. This exodus is known as the Great Migration, and was the first phase of an African American migration that would continue until 1970.

Additional resources for research

  1. The Great Migration, In Motion: The African American Migration Experience, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
  2. Chicago and the Great Migration, The Newberry.
  3. "Sir I Will Thank You with All My Heart": Seven Letters from the Great Migration, History Matters.

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