Warning: Because of the context of the era, you will read outdated terms no longer used to describe Black or African American people, including “colored” and “negro.” The Journal of African American History, which was formerly known as the Journal of Negro History, is a scholarly magazine that documents African American life and history. The journal was founded in 1916 by Carter G. Woodson, who is known as the Father of African American History. During and after Reconstruction, many black-owned newspapers, such as the Chicago Defender and the NY Age, became a source of news and information for African Americans during the Great Migration, as they listed job opportunities and advertisements for different services.
Winston-Salem, N.C., April 23, 1917
Dear Sir: Colored people of this place who know you by note of your great paper the Age and otherwise desire to get information from you of jobs of better opportunities for them and better advantages.
You will do us a great favor to answer us in advance.
Hamlet, N.C., May 29, 1917
Gentlemen: I am very desirous of changing my location and am writing to know whether or not you can find a lucrative opening for me somewhere in the North.
I am 42 years old, married, wife and four children and a public school teacher and printer by profession and trade. Will accept any kind of work with living wages, on tobacco farm or factory. I am a sober, steady worker and shall endeavor to render satisfaction in any position in which I am placed.
Charleston, S.C., Feb. 10, 1917
Gentlemen: Upon reading the N.Y. [A]ge, have seen where there are need [for] employees in some sugar concern in New York. Kindly answer this letter, and tell me the nature of the work.
As I am from the south and it is an average difficulty for a southerner to endure the cold without being climatize. If it is [possible] for you to get any other job for me regardless to its nature just since the work is indoor I’ll appreciate the same.
As it is understood the times in the south is very hard and one can scarcely live. Kindly take the matters into consideration, and reply to my request at your earliest convenience.
Fayette, GA., January 17, 1917.
Dear Sir: I have learned of the splendid work which you are doing in placing colored men in touch with industrial opportunities. I therefore write you to ask if you have an opening anywhere for me. I am a college graduate and understand Bookkeeping. But I am not above doing hard labor in a foundry or other industrial establishment. Please let me know if you can place me.
Hattiesburg, Miss., May 27th, 1917.
Gentlemen: by reading in the defender of the position you are in for securing jobs. I thought I would write, and see if you could place me. Now my job pay me well, but as my wife and Children are anxious to come north[.] I would try and get a job[.] I am a yellow Pine Lumber inspect[e]r and checker[.] [C]an furnish [recommendation] from some reliable Saw Mill Firms as there is in South [Mississippi] As [Grading] [Trimming] [and] Checking yellow pine lumber.
P.S. I know I can make good in any Lumber Yard such as checking [and] stowing Lumber if you Will place me write on what terms to—
Mobile, Ala., May the 4, 1917
Dear Sir: I write you a few line to find out about the Work and if I could get you to Send me and Wife and Son a transportation[.] I am not a loafer and can send references that I will work.
P.S. Please [write] me at once[.] I am anxious to [hear] from you.
New Orleans, LA., August 27, 1917.
Dear Sir: i am [writing] you for help[.] i [heard] of you by telling my [trouble.] i was told to [write] to you. I [want] to come there and [work]. I have [been] looking for work here for three month[s] and [can’t] find any. I once found a place $1 a week for a 15 year old girl and i did not take that. now you may say how can that be but New Orleans is so [hard]. Some have to work for food and the only help i have is my mother and she have [to] work 2 week[s] now and she have four children young[er] [than] me and i am [fifteen] and she have such a hard time. Tell she is willing for me to go and if you will [send] me a pass you will not be sorry[.] i am not no lazy girl[.] i am smart[.] i have got very much learning but i can do any work that come to my hand to do[.] i am [sitting] here to day worry i could [explain] it to you[.] i have [been] out three time[s] to day and it only 12 oclock. And if you please sire [send] me a pass. [it’s] more [than] i am able to. tell you how i will thank you[:] i have clothes to bring[,] [winter] dress to [wear]. My grand mama dress me but now she is dead and all i have is my mother now[.] please sire [send] me a pass and you [won’t] be sorry of it and if you [write] and speake mean[,] please [answer] i will be glad of that[.] but if you would [send] a pass i would be so much glader[.] i will work and pay for my pass if you [send] it. I am so sorry[.] tell i [can’t] talk like i [want] to and if you and your [family] [don’t] [want] to be worry with me I will stay where i work and will come and see you all do any [thing] i can for you all from little A—V—.
Excuse bad [writing].
Citation: Scott, Emmett J., “The Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916-18” in The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Jul., 1919), pp. 290-340. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2713780. Accessed 23 September 2023.
- After reading the letters, what conclusions can you make about life in the South for these authors?
- Make a list of the jobs the writers have already and the jobs they are looking for in the North. What does this tell you about the economy and lifestyle in Northern states at this time? What other observations can you make based on the list you made?
- What does this source tell you about the impact African American newspapers had on Black communities?
Lucrative: producing a large profit
Render: to provide or give
Climatize: to get used to a new environment
Foundry: a workshop or factory for casting metal
The Age/The NY Age: Established in 1887, a prominent, black-owned weekly newspaper
The defender: Chicago Defender, African American newspaper established in 1905
Loafer: lazy person