The Great Migration

The Great Migration and Fences

The Great Migration was the movement of African-Americans from the Southern States, such as Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana, to Northern, Western or Midwestern states, such as Michigan, Illinois, New York, and Philadelphia. Most Historians divide the Great Migration into two flows. One flow was from 1910-1940 and 1940-1970; both flows broke out when wars were emerging. The second migration (1940-1970) was much greater than the first migration (1910-1940). During the first migration “only” one million people migrated; however, during the second, five million migrated. The reasons behind the big migration were due between push and pull factors. The push factors which were a force that drove the African Americans to move to the north were poor economic and social conditions in the South. After the new reconstruction failed segregation laws known as the Jim Crow laws were established. The Jim Crow laws enforced color segregation in many places, including schools and transportation. It was coded in state and federal laws, the most famous one was the “separate but equal” decision in the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896. Due to the segregation laws, many violent supremacist groups established, the most well-known is the KKK (Ku Klux Klan). The KKK were violent against African Americans. They lynched, beat up and degraded African Americans. Other economic inequalities include sharecropping and farm failure. During reconstruction expanding labor force and population developed, over labor was caused which caused many black families to rent small amounts of land, in return they had to give a portion of their crops to their white landowners.The economic pull factors were factors that attracted the African Americans. In the north, the economic and social conditions were better than in the South. This fact attracted many to move up north. The better northern conditions, such as wages and living conditions, were spread in many black newspapers, such as  The Chicago Defender.  As in the picture below, the newspaper promotes with capturing titles that African Americans have a chance and future in the North. In the picture, The Chicago Defender highlights

Front page of The Chicago Defender

that there are 500 new jobs open for blacks. This title is bold and directly attracts the attention of the reader. In addition, as WWI broke out there was a need for industrial workers, which African Americans saw as their opportunity for a life full of freedom.However, the escape of racism in the north had its limits. The life for African Americans was harsh in big cities, such as Chicago and New York. Moreover, the black population grew in those cities. In New York, it was by 66% and in Detroit, it was by 661%. The arrivals had difficulties finding a job and housing due to competitive conditions. Although segregation was illegal in the North, it was still widely spread. Many moved into black only communities which were known as the ghettos. With a large number of migrants, a new culture established. The Harlem Renaissance was a New African American Movement; it expressed artistically, literally and intellectually the African American identity. This era also increased the want and need for a political movement which represented the African Americans and their rights.


African Americans waiting at a train station

In the Fences by August Wilson the main characters Troy and Bono lived in black only neighborhoods in Pennsylvania in the 1950s. During the Great Migration, Bono´s dad moved north to flew the slave-like conditions in the south, doing that he abandons his son, which made Bono decide to not become a father. Additionally, do trains in Fences represent change. Like many other young men, Troy used the trains to come to the North during the Great Migration and flew from his abusive home. Bono ad Troy then arrive in a black only neighborhood with many other families who migrated from the south. Although segregation is illegal in the North, many African Americans feel less valued and appreciated in society. For example, Troy fears for his job when he asks his manager, why only white men drive the trash vehicle. Throughout the play, August Wilson shows how African Americans are treated unfairly in the north.  In an interview with Bill Moyers, August Wilson says that the African Americans who came to the North, hoped to have a better and more successful life, however, they arrived to the opposite. The North was discriminating and did not give chances to the African Americans. Agust Wilson even goes further and says that African Americans even in his time were discriminated and had hardship finding a job and housing.


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