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Causes of the Great Migration

The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North is one of the greatest population shifts in the history of the United States. In the beginning of 20th century, African Americans faced many problems and searched for ways of improving their general situation in society, as well as their living conditions. Among the attempts of response to racism and political inequality were the Niagara Movement (1905), foundation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), serving in World War I, and finally leaving the South of the country. The major causes of African American migration in 1920-1920 were the political inequality, economic problems in the South, growing economy in the North, and the World War I.

Politically motivated African Americans left the South because they did not have an opportunity to vote and thus work for their personal interests. After the Civil War, the political status of African Americans improved. Before 1980, there were more than twenty representatives of African Americans in the House of Representatives while hundreds of Blacks were members of the state legislatures. However, the situation changed with passing of the Jim Craw laws, in 1890. African Americans suffered from these laws immensely because according to them all public institutions like schools, hotels, and hospitals were segregated. Moreover, African Americans could not vote as, in order to have the right to vote, people had to complete a literacy test and pay a special tax. Right to vote was very important for them, and the migration to the North was the only opportunity for African Americans to escape the political inequality.

Economically motivated emigrants tried to escape from agricultural disasters that occurred at the beginning of the century and all the troubles caused by them. In 1910, cotton farmlands were destroyed by floods and boll weevil infestation. Eventually, cotton production dropped in many states, including Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, and other states where black people lived. As a result, the majority of African Americans left precisely these states moving to the North. In general terms, the economy of the South was very poor even before these disasters. As the majority of African American population lived in the South, they experienced unemployment while those who managed to get employed received low wages. Whereas in other regions of the United States, the average wage was approximately $1000, in the South one was paid less than $400. In addition, African Americans worked more hours per week than anywhere else. The average duration of a working week was 70-75 hours. More than a half of the population in the South was employed in agriculture, and that is why when the harvest became smaller, fewer African Americans were employed. Thus, people looked for a better opportunity in order to improve their situation, and as a matter of fact they saw this opportunity in the North with its manufacturing jobs and better employment conditions.

Speaking further about the conditions in the North, that were favorable for African Americans, some of them are to be singled out. First, the Industrial Revolution that followed the Civil War was concentrated mainly in the North. The southern states were ten times less industrialized than those in the North. At the beginning of the 20th century, the USA produced more steel and coal than Great Britain or Germany. Besides, the United States was considered to be the largest consuming population. At the same time, the population was growing not too fast, and, as a result, factories and other manufacturing institutions had a labor shortage. Employers found the assistance of African Americans very good, and they understood that the employment of immigrants was the only way to go in pace with the growing economy. Second, the wages paid for manufacturing work in the North were much higher, and people earned three times more than they used to earn in the South, at average. Increasing population in the North led to the growth of cities. Many African Americans moved to the large industrialized cities like Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Philadelphia.

Apart from political inequality in the South and favorable economic conditions in the North, World War I is another issue that played a significant role in the migration of African Americans in 1910-1920. During the World War, I there was a demand in munitions and other war goods. The factories that produced them increased their workplaces. War kept Europeans from immigration, and thus their places were taken by the African Americans from the South. At the same time, labor from the South was cheaper and more productive as newcomers faced better working conditions than those they left, and, as a result, they worked more enthusiastically and selflessly. Employers were glad to discover that African Americans were very capable workers, desperate for work and willing do their best to earn money. In some cases, African Americans did the job that Whites refused to do for some reasons. In reality, the wages proposed to migrants were the lowest in the North, but comparing to the wages in the South they were an advance. In addition, when the USA got into the war, many young men were conscripted into the military, leaving their jobs open for immigrants.

Summing up, many politically and economically motivated African Americans moved from the South to the North, in 1910s through 1920s. This was the first wave of Great Migration, one of the most important population shifts in the US history. African Americans, who lived mainly in the South of the USA, faced many problems that made them move searching for better economic conditions and politically freer life. Among the major causes of African American migration in early 20th century were the desire to escape from political inequality and find better economic and employment conditions. It happened that the North of the country (being more industrialized and seeking for cheap labor before and during the World War I) became the best destination to start a new life.

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