“In a way, it has just begun”
– Nicholas Lemann, author of “The Promised Land.”
The Great Migration is not something that typically comes to the average American’s mind when thinking about Civil Rights- in fact, you may have no idea what I’m even talking about. It is wrapped in layers of many other significant parts of the twentieth century, a time during which America underwent major changes. The Great Migration began, author Nicholas Lemann says, in the early 1940s and lasted until the 1960s. It consisted of 6 million African Americans leaving the oppression of the South and setting out for the North. However, there is no clean cut ending to the story of the Great Migration. It is still being written by the future generations of those courageous men and women who forced America to open her eyes to the tragedy of race relations.
Isabel Wilkerson, whose parents traveled North, provides a detailed account of the Great Migration by interviewing 1,000 people for her book The Warmth of Other Suns. Click this link to hear her speak about her book and the impact that the Great Migration had on America. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129827444
“There were rumors that the machine was close to being perfected, finally”
From a historical and academic standpoint, it is easy to point to sharecropping as the event that kicked off the Great Migration. According to Lemann, one machine was able to do the work of 50 humans on the cotton plantations, and most African Americans were left unemployed.
“The marriage of a person of Caucasian blood with a Negro, Mongolian, Malay, or Hindu shall be null and void”
The Jim Crow segregation laws serve as a reminder to all Americans that violence and inequality were once accepted here. From barber shops to burials, citizens were shamelessly excluded from the advantages of being an American. As these laws were being enforced, it became increasingly apparent to Southern blacks that the time had come to move out and move North.
For a full list of the Jim Crow Laws, visit http://academic.udayton.edu/race/02rights/jcrow02.htm
“This could be done without undertaking the fool’s errand of trying to persuade people of racial utopia.”
It is impossible to summarize what exactly 5 million black Americans found when they reached their Northern destination, but Lemann’s narrative follows a few of these men and women and their introduction to whites that went out of their way to integrate their communities and take baby steps toward progress. There were also those whites that chose to leave their city once blacks had migrated there. Most of these affluent families that fled their homes out of ignorance left behind a neighborhood of blacks that were so oppressed by unequal labor laws that they struggled to provide for their families. Demographically, America changed. Socially, it was in no way perfect.
“The racial situation as it stands today is not permanent”
The Great Migration, although it gets little recognition, changed America in almost every way possible. It changed the demographic of our cities and the economics of the entire country. It brought up new social issues and forced the average white citizen, not just politicians to deal with issue of racism together. America is still a work in progress, but to change the future, we must remain educated on the past.