How did the Great Migration change North Carolina?
In the twentieth century, millions of African Americans from the rural South moved to cities in the North, Midwest, and West. Historians call this movement the Great Migration. This movement occurred in waves between 1910 and 1970. Before 1910, ninety percent of African Americans in the United States lived in the South. By the 1970s, only about fifty percent of U.S. African Americans lived there. The Great Migration in North Carolina began in the earliest wave, called the First Great Migration, between 1910 and 1940.
Many factors contributed to the Great Migration. After the Civil War, formerly enslaved African Americans experienced freedom along with the challenges of creating new lives. The federal government provided some support for this transition. The passage of new amendments to the U.S. Constitution gave African American men the right to vote, which created political opportunities.
There was an almost immediate backlash to the advancements of African Americans with the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist terror group. The KKK targeted Black people, organizations, and politicians. The KKK and other groups encouraged and intimidated white voters to their side and Black voters away from the polls. Southern states began using Black codes, which regulated what Black people could or could not do, from having particular jobs to living in certain areas. As the federal government became less involved in the South, Southern states were able to legally enforce racial segregation, which restricted African American lives and disenfranchised African American voters. By the early 1900s, many African Americans desired an escape from these oppressive laws and the constant threat of violence intended to keep them in line.
Because of segregation, African Americans also had limited economic opportunities in most Southern places, particularly rural ones. The dominant farming system in the South was tenant farming and sharecropping, which involved poor farmers using and living on the land of wealthier landowners. Sharecroppers paid those landowners either with money or crops that they grew. They were often exploited by landowners who claimed large debts for tools and supplies. They could also not control issues with the crops like pests and unusual weather that would leave them in debt. The desire to pursue better work and leave behind the toil of sharecropping motivated many to migrate.
Cities in the North and Midwest were booming with new economic opportunities in the early 1900s. Particularly during World Wars I and II, the demand for industrial labor was high and jobs plentiful because so many men were fighting wars abroad. Many of these employers recruited in the South through newspaper ads. Others heard about opportunities through word of mouth and photographs of thriving Black communities in other places. The promise of better jobs, higher wages, and improved living conditions motivated many to buy a one-way train ticket to leave the agricultural South for the industrialized North. But was life better after migrating?
Rural: in the countryside (rather than the town or the city)
Waves: periods of greatest activity
Backlash: strong or violent reaction to social or political change
White supremacist: idea that white people are superior to other races and ethnicities
Segregation: separation of groups of people by race or ethnicity
Disenfranchised: lost the right to vote or participate in the political process
Toil: exhausting labor or effort
Write a letter from the perspective of an African American who lives in a Northern city and a response from the perspective of an African American in North Carolina. Your letters must include the following:
- Date ranging from 1910-1940 (First Great Migration)
Proper letter format beginning with a greeting (salutation) such as Dear __________, and ending with a closing phrase such as Sincerely, _______________
- At least 6-8 sentences for each letter explaining life in person’s location, including reasons as to why they do or do not like where they live