While World War One was in full swing there was a lack of labor, especially in the North. This led to the Northern Migration of over 400,000 African Americans in 1917. The “Letters from the Great Migration” depict perfectly the poverty and racism in the South and economic opportunity in the North. Additionally, the letters illustrate the lack of education which further emphasizes how difficult it would’ve been to get a job.
The first two letters written by African Americans in New Orleans and Houston show the struggles in the South. The wages were so low that they couldn’t afford transportation to move North. They also go “let out” of many jobs because of their skin color. The only work they could find was unskilled because of their lack of education. This was why the North could target them so easily; it was cheaper labor and there was a lot of it.
The third letter, written by a woman from Philadelphia, provides relief from the despair of the first two. It shows that the opportunities of the North are true. Furthermore, the woman expresses that there is less racism by saying “I don’t have to mister every little white boy…” and “… havent hear a white man call a colored a nigger…” What’s really surprising to me is that she was actually making significantly more (it seemed) in the North than in the South.
I believe all of these letters showed the North’s desire to hire. I can’t say they had a desire to hire blacks, but it seems like a step in the right direction for African Americans. What I can say is that businesses in the North NEEDED labor and they got it. An additional motivation for the hiring of blacks would be because it was relatively cheap labor. There would also be a near guarantee of hard work because these people had no other choice but to work as hard as they could.
These letters overall are a great example of the perseverance that the African American community had. Ultimately, this led to them being able to live a little bit closer to the American Dream.