Major Problems in African-American History
Hmmm, Chickasaw don’t pay no woman no mind. Hmmm, Chickasaw don’t pay no woman no mind. And she stops, picking up men, all up and down the line.
Sgz E S S A Y Se Peter Gottlieb, archivist at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, lays out the struc tural factors that shaped the life African Americans might make in North or South in the first decades of the twentieth century, arguing that family and community resources were crucial in shaping the decisions that potential migrants made about relocation—and re-relocation. The second essay reminds us that although conditions within the United States generated this migration, it was part of a hemisphere-wide shift in labor demands and transportation networks. Irma Watkins-Owens, who teaches African-American studies and history at Fordham University, focuses on the forty thousand immigrants from the British West Indies who relocated to Harlem in the early twentieth century. She asks how they accommodated themselves to life in this new country and how their presence remade the black community in New York.
The Great Migration PETER GOTTLIEB
This essay is a contribution to the historical assessment of black migration. … In particular,… it is an attempt to place the Great Migration from 1916 to 1930 in the context of blacks’ northward movement from the 1870s to the 1970s. Drawing on the example of migration to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and its surrounding industrial region (Allegheny County), it examines the dynamics of blacks’ movement to northern cities as a way of understanding both the underlying conditions from which migration sprang as well as the distinctive character of the Great Migration.
Recent studies of African-American migration have demonstrated the mi grants’ creative role in their geographic movement. Unlike earlier investigations that primarily concerned the exterior facets of migration—the causes, destinations, numbers of migrants, and living conditions in origin and destination areas—the newer studies focus on the experience of geographic movement. Rather than ex plore only why and where southerners moved, this literature also reconstructs how they moved. It looks at the structures of group life and the values, attitudes, percep tions, and status that migrants brought to their movement. This view moves the forces that produce migration into the background and places the migrants them selves closer to the center of the geographic movement. Here the picture is not one of economic, political, or social conditions shuttling rural peoples from country to city. The emerging portrayal of African-American migration shows men and women responding to these conditions on the basis of deep-rooted social practices
Peter Gottlieb, “Rethinking the Great Migration: A Perspective from Pittsburgh,” in The Great Migration in Historical Perspective: New Dimensions of Race, Class, and Gender, edited by Joe William Trotter, Jr., pp. 68-75, © 1991 by Indiana University Press. Reprinted with permission.
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Rural Exodus and the Growth of New Urban Communities 139
and customs, developing a pattern of movement which reflected both the general causes of migration and their own social organization and aspirations.
Approached in this way, African-Americans’ voluntary migration springs from an interplay between socioeconomic structures and the migrants’ community and culture. Migrants draw in particular ways on various resources to contend with in ducements stemming from socioeconomic structures. The way in which African- Americans engage their resources with the pressures on them to move creates a migration dynamic—the motive force behind their movement. From the end of the Civil War to the 1960s, the structures of southern agricultural backwardness, African-Americans’ lack of land, capital, and occupational skills, and racial segre gation and discrimination conditioned geographic mobility. But particular induce ments to migration changed over time, as did the material and cultural resources that African-Americans deployed in different ways to make their journeys. Thus the dynamic of northward migration shifted from one period to another, marking dis tinct phases in the 100-year flow of African-Americans out of their native region.
We can begin to explore the dynamics of northward migration by reviewing the genesis of blacks’ World War I movement to Pittsburgh, examining factors in both the South and the North that contributed to the particular energy of that migration….
We usually describe the Great Migration in terms of several characteristics that distinguished the movement during World War I and the 1920s. First, there was a rapid growth in the northward migration streams when hundreds of thousands of southern blacks began journeys to eastern and midwestem cities. Behind this sud den increase in the number of migrants were material and social forces that simul taneously encouraged blacks to leave their rural homes and attracted them to the northern destinations. Finally, two results of the wartime migration have seemed most salient: the entry of black migrants to industrial jobs previously closed to them; and the élan of the migrants themselves, which reflected an awareness of a new historical period beginning and their power to enter it on advantageous terms.