“The Great Migration – seemed to promise
an optimistic future”



Mechanization and other changes in agricultural production in the postwar South left many African Americans without work…between 1940 and 1960, more than three million African Americans made their way from the South to Northern cities in search of employment (Nadasen).


After the abolishment of slavery African Americans were in search of better lives for themselves therefore, “The Great Migration – seemed to promise an optimistic future” (McLaughlin). Due to the limited number of jobs available and in search of a better life and higher paying jobs, African-Americans moved their job search northward where the ability to use one’s hand’s was useful in the manufacturing industry. “As a railroad hub and an industrial center, East St. Louis attracted large numbers of workers in search of employment” (McLaughlin). “The city drew significant numbers of black migrants” (McLaughlin)and as a result, “Migration gave rise to ghetto communities, in turn opening up opportunities for black business” (McLaughlin). “Ghetto formation created new opportunities to organize collective resistance and coordinate action through community networks and institution” (McLaughlin).


However, “The northward migration of African-Americans came at a time when the region’s imagined racial order had not fully solidified (Muller)and with so many people migrating, job availability began to dwindle up north. Unlike the south, White Americans were also in search of manufacturing jobs and quickly became aware of the fact that their chances of employment declined with the arrival of every able bodied African-American. “The threat of economic, residential, and status competition… insulated European immigrants… and unified them in their opposition to the arrival of African-Americans (Muller).



“From the point of view of many whites, black people were to be contained in the ghetto” (Anderson), and this viewpoint led to the mistreatment of African-Americans; “Despite high hopes and significant progress, there would be no let-up in or escape from white violence” (McLaughlin). “The reality of life… fell short of any…expectation” (McLaughlin).


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©2018 Jean Malek