GREAT MIGRATION The mass exodus of rural southern blacks to northern urban areas during the decade 1910-1920 is often referred to as the Great Migration. One of the largest population movements in U. S. history, the Great Migration had the effect of significantly increasing the number of African Americans residing in northern cities. During this decade the black population of Cleveland, Ohio, for example, climbed from 8,778 in 1910, to 34,815 in 1920, an increase of 148 percent. Similar increases were recorded in most major cities of the North between 1910-1920: the African American population of New York rose from 91,000 to 152,000; of Chicago from 44,000 to 109,000; and of Philadelphia from 85,000 to 135,000.
The "causes" of the Great Migration were numerous. Increasing southern discrimination drove thousands of blacks from their homes. Moreover, floods along the Mississippi River, the scourge of the boll weevil and the increasing dependence of the southern economy upon modern machinery had the effect of placing many black farmers in an economic squeeze. Perhaps of greater significance was the steady growth of northern industry during the decade 1910-1920 and the concurrent decline of immigration from Europe, which was the traditional source of the North's labor supply. Northern industry thus turned to southern blacks for a labor supply. It offered wages far in excess of what the blacks could possibly earn share-cropping in the South. Many manufacturers sent labor agents into the South to "sign-up" black laborers, who were often given free transportation to the North. The promise of a better life in New York or Chicago was especially appealing to the younger generation of black southerners who had never experienced slavery and were becoming impatient with southern conditions.
Unfortunately, the Great Migration had the ultimate effect of increasing racial tensions in the North. As northern whites faced new competition for their jobs and housing from southern blacks, they reacted with the racial fears and prejudices which have plagued human beings from time immemorial. Blacks were set apart from the white majority by residential segregation (i.e., the creation of black ghettos) and the creation and rigid enforcement of other discriminatory practices. In other words, the Great Migration, more than any single factor, was responsible for the polarization of northern urban whites and blacks and for the sowing of the seeds of racial discontent.