The Great MigrationWhen Europe was at war and the continent bracing itself from the impact of World War I there was also another major historical event that is happening across the Atlantic. In the United States of America, a mass migration occurred from the Southern states such as Mississippi to the Northern states such as Illinois and New York. It was considered as the Second Emancipation as the Negro race realized that it is not simply enough to be declared free but that they have to go after it and to those who joined the migration up North, freedom also means economic and political freedom which they could not achieve in the South.
The African-Americans who used to live in the South made a great decision to migrate to the Northern cities and by doing so they secured a better future for themselves and their children’s children.This is a very important issue to discuss not only because it the event was a landmark in the history of the African-American people who from the day one continued to struggle to find their place in this great country of America. Another interesting point that needs further investigation is the idea that even after more than a century after the abolition of slavery, Negroes from the South continued to live in squalor and could not find the ability and the strength to break away from the past.Moreover, there is yet another important aspect in the study of this subject matter and it is to find an answer to the question as to why geographical change – as in North versus South – can spell so much difference for a people and why they could not experience the same success while staying put in the South? And finally the last question that needed answering is if whether the migration was a positive part of African-American history or is it an even that could be added to an already long list of tragic happenings when it comes to intense interaction between white and colored race?It is impossible to fully grasp the meaning and importance of the Great Migration without having access into the historical context and most especially the events that occurred in the two centuries prior to the event itself. Many will agree that the start of the Great Migration can be traced back to the first major movement of the Negroes in 1916, when the Pennsylvania Railroad Company brought a handful of Black laborers to the north to work on their rails (Marks, 1). But social forces that drove the first few workers over the borders that divide north and south can be seen as a continuous build-up – that just has to find an outlet – that started when the first slaves set foot on American soil a few hundred years before 1916. This is because even though the African Americans of the early 20th century were considered freedmen they are yet to experience the same privileges that the white man has been taken for granted since the founding of this nation.To others living in the other side of the world, this may not be a thing of significance.
They could not possibly understand why racism is such a big term here in the land of the free. Well for starters, those who could not grasp the significance of the label African-American is because their forefathers were never slaves. Sure, those in the Orient may have suffered the pain of colonization and to some extent it can be considered a form of slavery. But the major difference is that they were subjugated in their own country and therefore they could mount a passive kind of uprising that would not bow down to the enemy. In the case of African-Americans it was an entirely different story.First of all the ancestors of African-Americans were taken by force from their homeland in Africa and then traded like cattle in the lucrative slave trade of long ago. But that is only half the story. When America was freed from the tyranny of British hegemony, the former slaves became second class citizens.
Thus, it was a double jeopardy for those Africans who were born Americans and the christened with a new label, a new social class differentiation – African -Americans.All men are born free, even for those whose skin color is black and who were born before the Civil War. But this freedom lasts only for a few seconds after they come out from the womb of their mother. Then reality sinks in and they social structure though invisible to the human eyes pronounces the baby as a slave, a property that could be traded and sold and like an animal can be forced o work like common beast of burden.Slavery as practiced in the pre-Civil War America is a product of a depraved mind.
It is very difficult to understand how the same lineage that brought up men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are the same race that tolerated slavery. It was clear in the U.S. Constitution the historic document that resulted from a tremendous insight into the equality of all men and their right to happiness. Even without the constitution Americans who came to the New World came bringing Bibles with them and in the great religion of Christianity one of the primary commandments was to love thy neighbor. Why is there a radical departure from these values and a sudden forgetfulness when the society’s leaders address the Negroes? This double standard and the cruelty that comes from imposing a lower standard for treating African Americans resulted in the shameful chapter in America’s history.In the chronicles of one of the most celebrated African American writer during the Age of Slavery, Harriet Jacobs described the heart wrenching plight of her people.
On every New Year’s Day in the South, it was traditional to hire and buy slaves so that on the second day of January the new hires and the newly purchased men, women, and children can begin their work at their master’s farm. According to Jacobs this day can be an infamous day for some black mothers who will most probably see their children bought and carted off to a place far from her and she would never see them again.Harriet Jacob’s words pierced like sharpened arrows when she described the day of dread for some mothers expecting the worst and she said, “She sits on her cold cabin floor, watching the children who may all be torn from her the next morning .
.. She may be an ignorant creature, degraded by the system that brutalized her from childhood; but she has a mother’s instincts..
. (Jacobs, 26). And in one occasion she saw a mother lead seven children to the auction block, she braced for the inevitable, that they will take a few but the mother was devastated when the auctioneers took all her children.
There are two looming figures in this period of American history. The first one is W.E.B. Du Bois and the second is Walter White. It is interesting to include both men in the study of the Great Migration not only because both are members of the NAACP the organization that champion the rights of blacks at a time when no one really paid attention to their welfare.
A lesser known figure is Walter White but the most important thing about him was that he is a member of the white race.The contribution of Walter White is seen in his ability to infiltrate whites only meeting and gather intelligence report with regards to lynching and other activities that the whites of his day tried to do in order to keep the Negro race subjugated if not in body then in mind and spirit. According to White the following reasons prompted him to side with the blacks and made him ashamed that he is fair skinned:1. The savagery of his fellow white Americans who allowed emotions than reason to override their mental capability in the time of the riot.2.
The lies that were perpetuated just so two white people can satisfy their desire for power.3. The disenfranchisement of a race that did nothing to deserve such treatment.4. The insecurity of the white man to integrate with the black man does not show superiority but inferiority in the moral sense of the word.The controversy can be explained through understanding the magnitude as well as the impact of the movement of African American from south to north.
Carole Marks’ description of the human inflow allows for a way to measure the significance of the event and she wrote:Migrants came north in thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands – from the docks of Norfolk, Savannah, Jacksonville, Tampa, Mobile, New Orleans, and Galveston: from the cotton fields of Mississippi, and the coal mines and steel-mills of Alabama and Tennessee; from workshops and wash-tubs and brickyards and kitchens the came, until the number, by conservative estimate, went well over the million and a half mark (Marks).Herein lays the controversy. Imagine a million African Americans leaving the South is equivalent to a million workers. The south’s businesses are in need of skilled laborers as well as the needed workers to sustain homes and farms. James Grossman was perceptive enough to unearth the root of the controversy and he remarked:Few whites, however, perceived ..
. the challenge the migration posed to their own values. Most found another threat more obvious and more immediately ominous: the loss of their labor supply. If dependency existed anywhere in the South, it was in the economic nexus linking white employer to black worker …
The plantation, whether worked by slaves, contract labor, sharecroppers, cash renters bonded by debt, or forced labor in the form of peonage, dependent on the landowner’s ability to keep his work force on his land (Grossman,).The arguments for this case can be seen through two differing perspectives. From the vantage view of the south the question is raised whether it is practical and beneficial for all Southerners that a major portion of their labor force is leaving by hundreds of thousands. Is there a rationale for disrupting the economic equilibrium? From the perspective of the northern cities, the sudden and massive influx of African Americans from the south can be compared to an invasion. The invading force may not be carrying weaponry but when they began to settle they compete with native inhabitants when it comes to jobs and housing. Furthermore, there is an added controversy regarding the view that the Negro race is a “social problem” that they will incite riots and other acts of violence.
The high crime rate involving African Americans is hard to ignore.The proponent of this paper argues in favor of the mass migration. This position was taken after considering the moral and ethical factors that are at work in this nation. Since America is a religious country and that many believes in living a moral life there is no reason why the African Americans living in the South can be forced to stay put. On the other hand the ethical consideration is drawn in part from the most important document from which the nation’s forefathers had founded this great country. The U.
S. constitution clearly states that everyone is created equal and that everyone has the right to the pursuit of happiness.A successful defense on the validity of the position – that indeed The Great Migration of the early 20th century was a good thing for the Negro race – can only be shown by looking at the success of the African-American who decided to cross the line so to speak.
And immediately the criticism that will be brought out would be the ensuing riots in cities such as Chicago where one can find African Americans in violent conflict with the white population of each particular area. Once the Negroes settled in 1919 a major riot broke out people were killed and seriously hurt. And there others who will cite the high crime rate involving Blacks as well as the decline in the literacy rate among African American juveniles.There are those who would like to rub it in and say that African-Americans have a defeatist attitude that they believe in their inferiority and that it is not right for them to be academically successful (see Martin, 2000). But this not always the case there are many African-Americans who despite the odds were able to hurdle the most difficult circumstance. Even by excluding the names celebrities who went on to dominate the world of sports and entertainment there is still enough evidence to show that the migration that began in 1916 offered the oppressed Negroes from the south a chance to achieve the American Dream.
This assertion is not based on a purely optimistic view. Part of the answer can be found in the words of Edwards when he commented on the general assumption that African-Americans are only going to excel in sports and in no other field of endeavor. Edwards was quoted saying, “This finding may be due, in part, to the high visibility of professional athletes (and other entertainers) as example of success, while other successful African-American are less visible – if not invisible” (as cited in Sailes, 1998).In order to show that success is possible within the members of this minority, successful African-American executives was quoted sharing their wisdom on how to succeed in this country, even in the context of racism as very sensitive issue. The following are the words of those who had made it to the top and are shining examples for young Black Americans.
David L. Hinds, the former Managing Director of Deutsche Bank has this to say, “There will be bumps along the road, and we all, black or white, have to deal with them in one way or another. The question is how do you get yourself beyond the bumps and continue to excel?” (as cited in Cobbs & Turnock, 2003).Thinking out of the box and having a new mindset can really help young African-Americans transition into someone with lost of inferiority into someone who has more positive outlook in life.
W. Frank Fountain, the Vice President of DaimlerChrysler Corporation, expounded on this idea. He said, “The competition within a corporate environment is intense. […] And because it’s basically a white environment most of the battles are white against white. Most of it doesn’t have to do with race per se […] you can’t let the race issue stop you” (as cited in Cobbs & Turncock, 2003).With regards to becoming adept at adapting to the environment and learn to master the world of the majority there is a need to be flexible. C.
Edward Chaplin, the Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Prudential Financial, Inc. made this comment, “If you’re going to be successful, you are going to have to learn to be culturally flexible, and cultural flexibility is something blacks are very good at” (as cited in Cobbs & Turncock, 2003).Virgis W. Colbert, the Executive Vice President of Miller Brewing Co. gave this advice, “You learn the rules of corporate culture, and most of them are unwritten; you can’t go to a manual and pull them out. You keep the antenna up for what’s happening and try to work your way through the maze” (as cited in Cobbs & Turncock, 2003).
No doubt Colbert was referring to the need for attentiveness in the place of work and the need to go the extra mile in order to succeed.Finally, the multi-talented and highly successful African-American executive Mannie L. Jackson who was the former Senior Vice President of Honeywell International, Inc. and owner, Chair and CEO of Harlem Globetrotters offered the following gems of wisdom. He said, “You need to be identified with something valuable. Very early I became identified with handling mergers and acquisitions. It was like Lee Iaccoca with Mustang” (as cited in Cobbs & Turncock, 2003).
There is no truth to the perception that there is something wrong with African-Americans. The popular caricature of an African-American male, incarcerated and involved in violent crimes is not an accurate depiction. There are many less popular but equally successful Black male Americans that can be emulated aside from the traditional sports and entertainment role models.Yet the path leading to that goal is not going to be an easy road. There will be a lot of changes that must first take place.The quotes taken from successful African-Americans are proof that the migration provided an opportunity for Negroes to find success in the northern cities. It can be argued that the same opportunities will never be available in the South a place where the Negro is considered to be inferior to the white man. Now going back to the abovementioned argument that the Negroes are a “social problem” and that they have in them the urge to do violent crimes etc there is a need to debunk that statement using the findings of an unbiased commission tasked to investigate the riots that occurred after the mass migration of blacks.
And the following statements explain the behavior of the African-Americans in their new homes:1. There were gross inequalities when it comes to how the criminal justice system treated the Negroes in their new found homes.2. Official laxity resulted in the non-enforcement of laws especially in the Negro communities.3. Negro communities were neglected when it comes to garbage disposal, the availability of recreational facilities, and the proper monitoring of housing that should have resulted in a more vigilant condemnation and razing of unfit habitation.It is now made clear from the aforementioned lists of offenses that the Negro from the time that they were sold as slaves to this country to their first major step of freedom when they migrated to the North – they are a people always forced to stay on the sidelines and never given the equal opportunity to succeed like their counterparts.
ConclusionThe position of the proponent lauding the Great Migration as an important step in the improvement of the lives of the Negro race was strengthened by providing a list of successful African-American leaders and entrepreneurs who shared their secrets to success. Their ability to voice out their hopes and dreams for the Negro youth and their ability to articulate what they felt and say it with authority, fearing no rebuke from the white man is a testament to the success of the migration. By transferring to the Northern cities the forefather of these modern day African-American leaders chose the right path for their children’s children.
But even if on hindsight, even if there were yet no clear indication that the African-Americans who left the economic security of the South in exchange for something better in the North, voice of reason and morality will still favor the migration. First of all there is absolutely no one who can decide the fate of the Negro race. They must be given a free hand to charter their own destiny. Furthermore, the Great Migration exposed the wickedness in the hearts of many that made it clear the Negro race will be able to lift up themselves to greater heights but only if they can get the support from the white man.With regards to the two arguments mentioned earlier – the two perspectives from both North and South – the economic well being of the white people in the South is not enough reason to keep the Negroes from leaving. First of all there is already more than enough evidence that documented the abuse committed against the black community in the Southern states. If they wanted to make life better for the African-Americans, they already had their chance.Now with regards to the second argument, the apprehension of the native inhabitants of northern cities, that the mass migration will threaten peace and security was already debunked by the findings of a commission that highlighted the inequalities and the double standards imposed by the whites over the blacks that resulted in the riots.
This simply means that if the Negroes were given the same opportunities and if they will be treated with kindness there is no reason to fear them and the migration is proven to be the correct action taken by the laborers who wanted to experience a better life up north.Works CitedCobbs, P.M. & Turncock, J.
Cracking the Corporate Code: The Revealing Success of32 African-American Executives. New York: AMACOM, 2003.Drake, St.
Clair. Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1993.Grossman, James. “Black Labor is the Best Labor: Southern White Reactions to the GreatMigration” Retrieved April 12, 2008 from http://www.inmotionaame.
org/texts/index.cfm;jsessionid=f830787461207936868084?migration=8&topic=99&type=text&bhcp=1Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of Slave Girl.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.Marks, Carole. “The Great Migration: African Americans Searching for the Promised Land,1916-1930.” Retrieved April 12, 2008 from http://www.inmotionaame.org/texts/index.cfm;jsessionid=f830787461207936868084?migration=8&topic=99&type=text&bhcp=1Martin, D.
B. Mathematics Success and Failure Among African-American Youth:The roles of Sociohistorical Context, Community Forces, School Influence, andIndividual Agency. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers, 2000.
Sailes, G. A. African Americans in Sport: Contemporary Themes. New Jersey:Transaction Publishers, 1998.