The Great Migration represented a plight of despair from sever oppression for African Americans in the south in the early 1900’s. Most sought an opportunity for grow and prosperity and felt that living in a “free” north, would afford them an opportunity of equality that the south would not nor could not offer. This of course brought with it the dream of a true nation, equal in the eyes of the law, which was in many instances an unattainable. It is not impossible to understand why they would want to flee from a very suffocating and torturous south that literally had nothing to offer them except a memory of the past. It was a survival instinct they had for their family, their heritage, and their customs that forced them to seek new beginnings. Most tried and failed as sharecroppers in the south due to a system which only predicated their failure. This of course only offered a continuance of servitude and a near impossible break of bondage which left them no other option than to seek a new life with the hopes of success, livelihood and freedom.
In reading Letters from the Great Migration (1917) the desperate pleas for a new beginning can be resonated through the very words from these individuals. They practically are begging for an opportunity to relocate with a promise of loyal work, and that of their friends with a promissory note for the debt for such relocations for as long as necessary to repay. These letters highlight the depths of oppression that African Americans were subjected to, the least of which were educational opportunities. Despite not having formal grammar in their letters, the tone and tenor of their message for chance is obvious and palatable for us all to interpret. They wanted to leave the south and go north.
What they found was not so different from what they had left. African Americans were in large part “segregated to the urban slums” of the northern cities according to Encyclopedia.com. Most northern states were unprepared to sustain such a large population growth in such a short amount of time and therefore availability of jobs and living space became a point of contention. The African American worker offered potential employers a guarantee of commitment, hard work and dedication to just be afforded an opportunity of work which meant freedom that the white men did not comprehend because they had been given such privileges’ without cause or question. This of course brought a discord between races and the fight for familial survival. The northern employer was very happy to hire the refugees from the south due to dedication, proven hard work, compromise, and at the time lower wages that the African American workers accepted. Over time though they demanded higher wages, better working conditions and wanted empowerment that their voting rights could offer.
Due to the population strains and competition of jobs, a path to protest and riots was inevitable. Such occasion occurred in 1919 with the Chicago riot as described in our readings and power point slides from Chapter 16. Within this dreadful year, over 25 riots took place throughout the north at an enormous price and at a cost of many lives lost. It is during this time that many noble African American leaders rise to become the voice for the struggles and organizations are formed to help aid in their fight for liberation.
It is easily understood that during this very vulnerable period in our history equality was still not an inalienable right given to all and where African Americans should have found shelter and acceptance in the north, they were met with a similar villains wearing a similar masks.
Encyclopedia. com; The Great Migration. Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. 2000. Web. 29. Sept. 2017.