The Great Migration of African Americans

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Map Code: Ax01333

After the end of the post-Civil War Reconstruction Period (1865–77), the ‘Bourbon Democrats’ monopolized political power in the South, orchestrating a systematic exclusion of blacks from the political process. This would be cemented by the introduction of ‘Jim Crow Laws’ of racial segregation. The black population in the South was overwhelmingly rural, in sharecropping tenancies: the devastation of cotton crops by the spread of the boll weevil (1892–1932) decimated already precarious livelihoods. Allied to these ‘push’ factors, there was the ‘pull’ of the northern industrial boom. Once US Immigration Acts (1921, 1924) had stemmed immigration, northern employers actively solicited black migration, paying transport costs and offering cheap housing. Around 6 million African Americans migrated north and, increasingly west. There were favoured ‘grooves’ of migration: Virginia-Philadelphia; Alabama-Cleveland; Mississippi-Chicago. By 1970, 80 per cent of African Americans lived in cities, and the proportion living in the South had reduced from 90 per cent (1900) to 53 per cent.

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