More than 6 million African Americans left the South during the Great Migration of the early twentieth century. Although some of those men and women went to the Midwest and West, most went north to find work in the burgeoning factory and railroad industries. Some pros of migration included:
- Higher wages. At the beginning of the Great Migration, African Americans could make as much as 300% more in the North than in the South.
- Freedom from oppression. The Jim Crow laws institutionalized racism in the post-Civil War South and prevented African Americans from achieving equality under the law.
- Safety. White supremacists such as the Ku Klux Klan caused Southern African Americans to live in fear of violent actions such as lynchings.
However, migrating to the North was now wholly beneficial. Some cons included:
- Poor working conditions.
- Rising rents as increasing numbers of African Americans migrated to northern cities.
- Racial tensions. Though not as violent as their southern counterparts, many northerns harbored racist tendencies and were disturbed by the huge influx of African American immigrants.
As you can see, the African Americans who moved north found higher-paying jobs and some increased freedom, but they were also disappointed to continue to experience racism as they had in the South.
With the United States being the "arsenal for democracy" for the Allies during the Great War in Europe, demand for labor in factories in the north had skyrocketed by 1915. Black Americans who had lived in the South for generations were faced with a new opportunity for their families. Millions of African-Americans would make the decision to leave the agrarian lifestyle of sharecropping and tenant farming for new opportunities in industry.
This movement would present a number of positives and negatives for African-Americans.
1. The South had not truly changed its view on African-Americans and what they believed the racial social order: sharecropping, lynchings, black codes, Jim Crow laws, and lack of opportunity was a fact of life for African-Americans.
2. Opportunity for economic improvement in the North was unprecedented. This would become even more true with American involvement in World War I as labor demand skyrocketed.
1. Moving to another part of the country is always a scary proposition. New places, people, and challenges would be faced by African-Americans.
2. Migrants were met by racism in the North, which while not as overt as in the South, was still a major obstacle.
The migration North was probably most disappointing after World War I when veterans returned from Europe and expected to have jobs in the factories. This led to wide unemployment for black people and even racial violence in riots in many major cities. Unfortunately, the Ku Klux Klan would follow African-Americans north where the 1920's saw the apex of the hate group's membership.