Negro Migration during the War
by Emmett J. Scott
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[Transcriber's Note: All spellings and hyphenations have been left as in the original, with one exception: Footnote 119, where 'durng' was changed to 'during'.]




In the preparation of this study I have had the encouragement and support of Dr. Robert R. Moton, Principal of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, Alabama, who generously placed at my disposal the facilities of the Institute's Division of Records and Research, directed by Mr. Monroe N. Work, the editor of the Negro Year Book. Mr. Work has cooperated with me in the most thoroughgoing manner. I have also had the support of the National League on Urban Conditions and particularly of the Chicago branch of which Dr. Robert E. Park is President and of which Mr. T. Arnold Hill is Secretary. Mr. Hill placed at my disposal his first assistant, Mr. Charles S. Johnson, graduate student of the University of Chicago, to whom I am greatly indebted. I must also make acknowledgment of my indebtedness to Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Incorporated, Washington, D.C., for placing at my disposal the facilities of his organization.

The work of investigation was divided up by assigning Mr. Work to Alabama, Georgia and Florida; Mr. Johnson to Mississippi and to centers in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, while the eastern centers were assigned to Mr. T. Thomas Fortune, Trenton, New Jersey, a former editor of the New York Age, and a publicist and investigator of well known ability. It is upon the reports submitted by these investigators that this study rests. I can not speak too warmly of the enthusiastic and painstaking care with which these men have labored to secure the essential facts with regard to the migration of the negro people from the South.

Emmett J. Scott.

Washington, D.C.,

June 5, 1919.



I Introduction 3

II Causes of the Migration 13

III Stimulation of the Movement 26

IV The Spread of the Movement 38

V The Call of the Self-Sufficient North 49

VI The Draining of the Black Belt 59

VII Efforts to Check the Movement 72

VIII Effects of the Movement on the South 86

IX The Situation in St. Louis 95

X Chicago and Its Environs 102

XI The Situation at Points in the Middle West 119

XII The Situation at Points in the East 134

XIII Remedies for Relief by National Organizations 143

XIV Public Opinion Regarding the Migration 152

Bibliography 175

Index 185




Within the brief period of three years following the outbreak of the great war in Europe, more than four hundred thousand negroes suddenly moved north. In extent this movement is without parallel in American history, for it swept on thousands of the blacks from remote regions of the South, depopulated entire communities, drew upon the negro inhabitants of practically every city of the South, and spread from Florida to the western limits of Texas. In character it was not without precedent. In fact, it bears such a significant resemblance to the migration to Kansas in 1879 and the one to Arkansas and Texas in 1888 and 1889 that this of 1916-1917 may be regarded as the same movement with intervals of a number of years.

Strange as it might seem the migration of 1879 first attracted general notice when the accusation was brought that it was a political scheme to transplant thousands of negro voters from their disfranchisement in the South to States where their votes might swell the Republican majority. Just here may be found a striking analogy to one of the current charges brought against the movement nearly forty years later. The congressional inquiry which is responsible for the discovery of the fundamental causes of the movement was occasioned by this charge and succeeded in proving its baselessness.[1]

The real causes of the migration of 1879 were not far to seek. The economic cause was the agricultural depression in the lower Mississippi Valley. But by far the most potent factor in effecting the movement was the treatment received by negroes at the hands of the South. More specifically, as expressed by the leaders of the movement and refugees themselves, they were a long series of oppression, injustice and violence extending over a period of fifteen years; the convict system by which the courts are permitted to inflict heavy fines for trivial offenses and the sheriff to hire the convicts to planters on the basis of peonage; denial of political rights; long continued persecution for political reasons; a system of cheating by landlords and storekeepers which rendered it impossible for tenants to make a living, and the inadequacy of school facilities.[2] Sworn public documents show that nearly 3,500 persons, most of whom were negroes, were killed between 1866 and 1879, and their murderers were never brought to trial or even arrested. Several massacres of negroes occurred in the parishes of Louisiana. Henry Adams, traveling throughout the State and taking note of crime committed against negroes, said that 683 colored men were whipped, maimed or murdered within eleven years.[3]

In the year 1879, therefore, thousands of negroes from Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina moved to Kansas. Henry Adams of Shreveport, Louisiana, an uneducated negro but a man of extraordinary talent, organized that year a colonization council. He had been a soldier in the United States Army until 1869 when he returned to his home in Louisiana and found the condition of negroes intolerable. Together with a number of other negroes he first formed a committee which in his own words was intended to "look into affairs and see the true condition of our race, to see whether it was possible we could stay under a people who held us in bondage or not." This committee grew to the enormous size of five hundred members. One hundred and fifty of these members were scattered throughout the South to live and work among the negroes and report their observations. These agents quickly reached the conclusion that the treatment the negroes received was generally unbearable.[4] Some of the conditions reported were that land rent was still high; that in the part of the country where the committee was organized the people were still being whipped, some of them by their former owners; that they were cheated out of their crops and that in some parts of the country where they voted they were being shot.

It was decided about 1877 that all hope and confidence that conditions could be changed should be abandoned. Members of this committee felt that they could no longer remain in the South, and decided to leave even if they "had to run away and go into the woods." Membership in the council was solicited with the result that by 1878 there were ninety-eight thousand persons from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas belonging to the colonization council and ready to move.[5]

About the same time there was another conspicuous figure working in Tennessee—Benjamin or "Pap" Singleton, who styled himself the father of the exodus. He began the work of inducing negroes to move to the State of Kansas about 1869, founded two colonies and carried a total of 7,432 blacks from Tennessee. During this time he paid from his own pocket over $600 for circulars which he distributed throughout the southern States. "The advantages of living in a free State" were the inducements offered.[6]

The movement spread as far east as North Carolina. There a similar movement was started in 1872 when there were distributed a number of circulars from Nebraska telling of the United States government and railroad lands which could be cheaply obtained. This brief excitement subsided, but was revived again by reports of thousands of negroes leaving the other States of the South for Kansas. Several hundred of these migrants from North Carolina were persuaded en route to change their course and go to Indiana.[7]

Much excitement characterized the movement. One description of this exodus says:

Homeless, penniless and in rags, these poor people were thronging the wharves of St. Louis, crowding the steamers on the Mississippi River, hailing the passing steamers and imploring them for a passage to the land of freedom, where the rights of citizens are respected and honest toil rewarded by honest compensation. The newspapers were filled with accounts of their destitution, and the very air was burdened with the cry of distress from a class of American citizens flying from persecution which they could no longer endure. Their piteous tales of outrage, suffering and wrong touched the hearts of the more fortunate members of their race in the North and West, and aid societies, designed to afford temporary relief and composed almost wholly of colored people, were organized in Washington, St. Louis, Topeka and various other places.[8]

Men still living, who participated in this movement, tell of the long straggling procession of migrants, stretching to the length at times of from three to five miles, crossing States on foot. Churches were opened all along the route to receive them. Songs were composed, some of which still linger in the memory of survivors. The hardships under which they made this journey are pathetic. Yet it is estimated that nearly 25,000 negroes left their homes for Kansas.[9]

The exodus during the World War, like both of these, was fundamentally economic, though its roots were entangled in the entire social system of the South. It was hailed as the "Exodus to the Promised Land" and characterized by the same frenzy and excitement. Unlike the Kansas movement, it had no conspicuous leaders of the type of the renowned "Pap" Singleton and Henry Adams. Apparently they were not needed. The great horde of restless migrants swung loose from their acknowledged leaders. The very pervasiveness of the impulse to move at the first definite call of the North was sufficient to stir up and carry away thousands before the excitement subsided.

Despite the apparent suddenness of this movement, all evidence indicates that it is but the accentuation of a process which has been going on for more than fifty years. So silently indeed has this shifting of the negro population taken place that it has quite escaped popular attention. Following the decennial revelation of the census there is a momentary outburst of dismay and apprehension at the manifest trend in the interstate migration of negroes. Inquiries into the living standards of selected groups of negroes in large cities antedating the migration of 1916-1917 have revealed from year to year an increasing number of persons of southern birth whose length of residence has been surprisingly short. The rapid increase in the negro population of the cities of the North bears eloquent testimony to this tendency. The total increase in the negro population between 1900 and 1910 was 11.2 per cent. In the past fifty years the northern movement has transferred about 4 per cent of the entire negro population; and the movement has taken place in spite of the negro's economic handicap in the North. Within the same period Chicago increased her negro population 46.3 per cent and Columbus, Ohio, 55.3 per cent. This increase was wholly at the expense of the South, for the rural communities of the North are very sparsely populated with negroes and the increment accruing from surplus birth over deaths is almost negligible.[10]

When any attempt is made to estimate the volume of this most recent movement, however, there is introduced a confusing element, for it can not definitely be separated from a process which has been in operation since emancipation. Another difficulty in obtaining reliable estimates is the distribution of the colored population over the rural districts. It is next to impossible to estimate the numbers leaving the South even on the basis of the numbers leaving the cities. The cities are merely concentration points and they are continually recruiting from the surrounding rural districts. It might be stated that 2,000 negroes left a certain city. As a matter of fact, scarcely half that number were residents of the city. The others had moved in because it was easier to leave for the North from a large city, and there was a greater likelihood of securing free transportation or traveling with a party of friends. It is conservatively stated, for example, that Birmingham, Alabama, lost 38,000 negroes. Yet within a period of three months the negro population had assumed its usual proportions again.[11] Prior to the present migration of negroes, there was somewhat greater mobility on the part of the white than on the part of the negro population. As for example, according to

the census of 1910 of 68,070,294 native whites, 10,366,735 or 15.2 per cent were living in some other division than that in which they were born. Of 9,746,043 native negroes reported by the census of 1930, 963,153 or 9.9 per cent were living outside the division of birth.[12] Previous to the present migration, the south Atlantic and the east south central divisions were the only ones which had suffered a direct loss in population through the migration of negroes.[13]

The census of 1910 brought out the fact that there had been considerable migration from the North to the South, as well as from the South to the North, and from the East to the West. The number of persons born in the North and living in the South (1,449,229) was not very different from the number born in the South and living in the North (1,527,107). The North, however, has contributed more than five times as many to the population of the West as the South has. The number of negroes born in the South and living in the North in 1910 was 415,533, or a little over two-thirds of the total number living in the North. Of the 9,109,153 negroes born in the South, 440,534, or 4.8 per cent, were, in 1910, living outside the South.[14] The migration southward it will be noted, has been in recent years largely into the west south central division, while the migration northward has been more evenly distributed by divisions, except that a comparatively small number from the South have gone into the New England States.[15]

The greater mobility of whites than of negroes is shown by the fact that in 1910, 15 per cent of the whites and 10 per cent of the negroes lived outside of the States in which they were born. This greater mobility of the whites as compared with the negroes was due in a large measure to the lack of opportunities for large numbers of negroes to find employment in the sections outside the South. The World War changed these conditions and gave to the negroes of the United States the same opportunities for occupations in practically every section of the country, which had heretofore been enjoyed only by the whites. In 1900, 27,000 negroes born in the North lived in the South. In 1910, 41,000 negroes born in the North lived in the South. This indicated that there was beginning to be a considerable movement of negroes from the North to the South because of the greater opportunities in the South to find employment in teaching, medicine and business. The migration conditions brought about by the war have probably changed this to some extent. Previous to the World War, the States having the greatest gain from negro migration were Arkansas, 105,500, Pennsylvania, 85,000, Oklahoma, 85,000, Florida, 84,000, New York, 58,450 and Illinois, 57,500.

The point brought out here indicates that because of economic opportunities, Arkansas and Oklahoma, being contiguously situated in one section of the South and Florida in another section of the South, had received a greater migration of negroes than any State in the North.

Dr. William Oscar Scroggs of Louisiana calls attention to the tendency of negroes to move within the South, although, as, he points out, this tendency is not as great as it is for the whites. On this he says:

The negro shows a tendency, not only to move northward, but also to move about very freely within the South. In fact, the region registering the largest net gain of negroes in 1910 from this interstate movement was the west south central division (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas) which showed a gain from this source of 194,658. The middle Atlantic division came second with a gain of 186,384, and the east north central third with a gain of 119,649. On the other hand, the south Atlantic States showed a loss of 392,827, and the east south central States a loss of 200,876 from interstate migration. While the negroes have shown this marked inclination toward interstate movement, they nevertheless exhibit this tendency in less degree than do the whites.[16]

The subjoined tables show the intersectional migration of the negro population:


(As Reported by Census of 1910)

Number Born in Specified Divisions and Living In or Out of These Divisions

—————————-+———————-+——————————-+———————— Number Living: Per Cent Living +——————————-+ Without Total Born in the Division Division the Division Within Without in Which Division Division Born —————————-+———————-+—————+—————+———————— United States 9,746,043 8,782,890 963,153 9.9 New England 37,799 30,815 6,984 18.5 Middle Atlantic 212,145 189,962 22,183 10.5 East North Central 173,226 145,187 28,039 16.2 West North Central 198,116 162,054 36,062 18.2 South Atlantic 4,487,313 4,039,173 448,140 10.0 East South Central 2,844,598 2,491,607 352,991 12.4 West South Central 1,777,242 1,713,888 63,354 3.6 Mountain 7,342 4,122 3,220 43.9 Pacific 8,262 6,082 2,180 26.4 —————————-+———————-+—————+—————+————————

Number Living in Specified Divisions

—————————-———————-————————————-——————— Number Number Per Cent Total Living Born in and Living in Living in Division in the Living in the Division Division Division the Division Born in Other Born in Other Divisions Divisions —————————-———————-————————————-——————— United States 9,746,043 8,782,890 963,153 9.9 New England 58,109 30,815 27,294 47.0 Middle Atlantic 398,529 189,962 208,567 52.3 East North Central 292,875 145,187 147,688 50.4 West North Central 238,613 162,054 76,559 32.1 South Atlantic 4,094,486 4,039,173 55,313 1.4 East South Central 2,643,722 2,491,607 152,115 5.8 West South Central 1,971,900 1,713,888 258,012 13.1 Mountain 20,571 4,122 16,449 80.0 Pacific 27,238 6,082 21,156 77.7 —————————-———————-————————————-———————

Migration North to South, South to North and East to West

————————-+—————-+———————————————-+————————- Born in: State of —————+—————+————-+ Birth not Total The North The South The West Reported Race and Section Native or Born in of Residence Population Possessions, etc. ————————-+—————-+—————+—————+————-+————————- All Races United States 78,456,380 46,179,002 29,010,255 2,906,162 360,961 The North 44,390,371 42,526,162 1,527,107 124,001 213,101 The South 28,649,319 1,449,229 27,079,282 38,230 82,578 The West 5,416,690 2,203,611 403,866 2,743,931 65,282

White United States 68,386,412 45,488,942 19,814,860 2,766,492 316,118 The North 43,319,193 41,891,353 1,110,245 116,939 200,656 The South 19,821,249 1,407,262 18,326,236 34,523 53,228 The West 5,245,970 2,190,327 378,379 2,615,030 62,234

Negro United States 9,787,424 621,286 9,109,153 15,604 41,381 The North 999,451 570,298 415,533 2,295 11,325 The South 8,738,858 39,077 8,668,619 2,412 28,750 The West 49,115 11,911 25,001 10,897 1,306 ————————-+—————-+—————+—————+————-+————————-

Net Migration Eastward and Westward and Northward and Southward

—————————-+——————————————————————————- Population, 1910 +————-+———————————————+———-+——- Total White Negro All +————-+————-+—————+ Other Total Of Native Of Foreign Parentage or Mixed Section Parentage —————————-+————-+————-+————-+—————+———-+——- Born east and living west of the Mississippi River 5,276,879 4,941,529 3,846,940 1,094,589 331,031 4,319

Born west and living east of the Mississippi River 684,773 616,939 417,541 199,398 63,671 4,163 ————-————-————-————————-——— Net migration westward across the Mississippi River 4,592,106 4,324,590 3,429,399 895,191 267,360 156 Born North and living South 1,449,229 1,407,262 1,156,122 251,140 39,077 2,890 Born South and living North 1,527,107 1,110,245 944,572 165,673 415,533 1,329 ————-————-————-————————-——— Net migration southward 297,017 211,550 85,467 1,561 Net migration northward 77,878 376,456 —————————-————-————-————-————————-———

[Footnote 1: Congressional Record, 46th Cong., 2d sess., vol. X, p. 104.]

[Footnote 2: Atlantic Monthly, LXIV, p. 222; Nation, XXVIII, pp. 242, 386.]

[Footnote 3: Williams, History of the Negro Race, II, p. 375.]

[Footnote 4: Atlantic Monthly, LXIV, p. 222.]

[Footnote 5: Williams, History of the Negro Race, II, p. 375.]

[Footnote 6: W.L. Fleming, "Pap Singleton, the Moses of the Colored Exodus," American Journal of Sociology, chapter XV, pp. 61-82.]

[Footnote 7: Congressional Record, Senate Reports, 693, part II, 46th Cong., 2d sess.]

[Footnote 8: American Journal of Social Science, XI, pp. 22-35.]

[Footnote 9: Ibid., p. 23.]

[Footnote 10: The Censuses of the United States.]

[Footnote 11: Ibid.]

[Footnote 12: Vol. I, census of 1910, Population, General Report and Analysis, p. 693.]

[Footnote 13: Ibid., p. 694.]

[Footnote 14: Ibid., p. 698.]

[Footnote 15: Vol. 1, 1910 census, Population, General Report and Analysis, p. 699.]

[Footnote 16: Scroggs, "Interstate Migration of Negro Population," Journal of Political Economy, December, 1917, p. 1040.]



It seems particularly desirable in any study of the causes of the movement to get beneath the usual phraseology on the subject and find, if possible, the basis of the dissatisfaction, and the social, political and economic forces supporting it. It seems that most of the causes alleged were present in every section of the South, but frequently in a different order of importance. The testimony of the migrants themselves or of the leading white and colored men of the South was in general agreement. The chief points of disagreement were as to which causes were fundamental. The frequency with which the same causes were given by different groups is an evidence of their reality.

A most striking feature of the northern migration was its individualism. This factor after all, however, was economic. The motives prompting the thousands of negroes were not always the same, not even in the case of close neighbors. As a means of making intelligible these complicating factors it is necessary to watch the process as it affected the several migrants. The economic motive stands among the foremost reasons for the decision of the group to leave the South. There are several ways of arriving at a conclusion regarding the economic forces. These factors might, for example, be determined by the amount of unemployment or the extent of poverty in a community as registered by the prosperity. These facts are important, but may or may not account wholly for individual action. Except in a few localities of the South there was no actual misery and starvation. Nor is it evident that those who left would have perished from want had they remained. Discontent became more manifest as comparisons were made between the existing state of things at home and a much better state of things elsewhere. It is possible to note in the appeals of the letters a suggestion of a desire simply to improve their living standards so long as there was an opportunity. In the case of some there is expressed a praiseworthy providence for their families; and in others may be found an index to the poverty and hopelessness of their home communities. In this type of migration the old order is strangely reversed. Large numbers of negroes have frequently moved around from State to State and even within the States of the South in search of more remunerative employment. A movement to the West or even about in the South could have proceeded from the same cause, as in the case of the migration to Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Among the immediate economic causes of the migration were the labor depression in the South in 1914 and 1915 and the large decrease in foreign immigration resulting from the World War. Then came the cotton boll weevil in the summers of 1915 and 1916, greatly damaging the cotton crop over considerable area, largely in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, and threatening greatly to unsettle farming conditions in the year 1917.[17] There followed then the cotton price demoralization and the low price of this product during subsequent years. The unusual floods during the summer of 1915 over large sections in practically the same States further aggravated the situation. The negroes, moreover, were generally dissatisfied because of the continued low wages which obtained in the South in spite of the increasing cost of living. Finally, there was a decided decrease in foreign immigration. The result was a great demand in the North for the labor of the negro at wages such as he had never received.[18]

To understand further the situation in the South at the beginning of the migration and just prior to it, attention should be directed to the fact that the practice of mortgaging the cotton crop before it is produced made sudden reversals—an inevitable result of such misfortune as followed the boll weevil and the floods. Thousands of landlords were forced to dismiss their tenants and close the commissaries from which came the daily rations. Some planters in Alabama and Mississippi advised their tenants to leave and even assisted them. The banks and merchants refused to extend credit when cotton was no longer to be had as a security. As a consequence, a great number of tenants were left without productive work, money or credit. A host of idle persons thrown suddenly on the labor market could have no other effect than to create an excess in the cities to which they flocked, make laborers easily replaceable, and consequently reduce wages. A southern paper in commenting on this situation declared "there is nothing for this excess population to do. These people must live on the workers, making the workers poorer ... if there is a tap that will draw off the idle population, that will be a good thing for the cities at least."[19]

The circumstances of unemployment which contributed so largely to the restless mood in some sections of the South was due primarily to a lack of sufficient capital to support labor during the lean seasons. This meant, of course, that the cotton pests and storms that played havoc with whole sections rendered helpless all classes of the population. The usual method of handling labor, especially on the cotton plantations, was for the planter to maintain his hands from the commissary during the fall and early winter in order that they might be convenient for the starting and cultivation of a new crop. But with their last year's crop lost, their credit gone and the prospects of a new crop very shadowy, there was left no other course but to dismiss the people whom they could not support.

For a long time southern farmers had been importuned to adopt a more diversified method of farming to offset the effects of unexpected misfortune in the cotton industry and to preserve the value of the soil. Following the ravages of the boll weevil, the idea gained wide application. The cotton acreage was cut down and other crops substituted. The cultivation of cotton requires about five times as many laborers as the cultivation of corn and the work is fairly continuous for a few employes throughout the year. Additional unemployment for negro tenant farmers was an expected result of this diversification. The greatest immediate disadvantage to negro planters and small farmers resulting from the failure of the cotton crops was the lack of money and credit to sustain them while the corn and velvet beans were being grown. It was for like reasons impracticable to attempt to raise stock, for there was no means of making a beginning, as a certain amount of capital was prerequisite.

Despite the fact that food prices began to rise with the war, wages advanced very slowly. In 1915, wages of farm laborers in the South averaged around 75 cents a day. In the towns the principal opportunities for employment were in the oil mills, lumber mills, cotton compresses, railroad shops and domestic service. In the mills and shops the average of wages ranged from $1 to $1.50 a day. The wages of such skilled laborers as carpenters and bricklayers ranged from $2 to $3.50 a day. In domestic service women received from $1.50 to $3 per week and board. Men in domestic service received on an average of $5 a week.[20]

In spite of these conditions in the South it might appear strange that not until fifty years after the privilege was granted negroes to go where they pleased did they begin to make a sudden rush for the northern States. Stranger still does it seem that, despite the fairly general agreement among southern negroes that the North affords greater personal liberty, is less prejudiced to individuals because of the color of their skins, grants to negroes something nearer to open handed justice, participation in the government, wider privileges and freer associations, there should be in 1910 scarcely more than one-tenth of the negro population where these reputed advantages are. The North has been looked upon as the "Promised Land," the "Ark of Safety," the "House of Refuge" for all these years. A common reason recently advanced by the majority of southern negroes for the abandonment of their homes was the desire to escape from the oppressive social system of their section. Why have they not escaped before? The answer lies in the very hard fact that, though the North afforded larger privileges, it would not support negroes. It was the operation of an inexorable economic law, confused with a multitude of social factors, that pushed them back to the soil of the South despite their manifest desire to leave it.

None of the causes was more effective than that of the opportunity to earn a better living. Wages offered in the North were double and treble those received in the South. Women who received $2.50 a week in domestic service could earn from $2.10 to $2.50 a day and men receiving $1.10 and $1.25 a day could earn from $2.50 to $3.75 a day in the various industries in the North.[21] An intensive study of the migration to Pittsburgh, made by Mr. Abraham Epstein, gives an idea of the difference in wages paid in the North and the South. His findings may be quoted: "The great mass of workers get higher wages here than in the places from which they come. Fifty-six per cent received less than two dollars a day in the South, while only five per cent received such wages in Pittsburgh." Sixty-two per cent received between $2 and $3 per day in Pittsburgh as compared with 25 per cent in the South, and 28 per cent received between $3 and $3.60 in this city as compared with four per cent in the South.

The inability to educate their children properly because of the inadequacy of school facilities was another cause which has been universally given for leaving the South.[22] The basis for this frequently voiced complaint is well set forth in the study of Negro Education by Dr. Thomas Jesse Jones.[23]

The inadequacy of the elementary school system for colored children is indicated both by the comparisons of public appropriations already given and by the fact that the attendance in both public and private schools is only 58.1 per cent of the children six to fourteen years of age. The average length of the public school term is less than five months in practically all of the southern States. Most of the school buildings, especially those in the rural districts, are in wretched condition. There is little supervision and little effort to improve the schools or adapt their efforts to the needs of the community. The reports of the State Departments of Georgia and Alabama indicate that 70 per cent of the colored teachers have third grade or temporary certificates, representing a preparation less than that usually given in the first eight elementary grades. Investigations made by supervisors of colored schools in other States indicate that the percentage of poorly prepared colored teachers is almost as high in the other southern States.

The supervisor of white elementary rural schools in one of the States recently wrote concerning negro schools: "I never visit one of these (negro) schools without feeling that we are wasting a large part of this money and are neglecting a great opportunity. The negro schoolhouses are miserable beyond all description. They are usually without comfort, equipment, proper lighting or sanitation. Nearly all of the negroes of school age in the district are crowded into these miserable structures during the short term which the school runs. Most of the teachers are absolutely untrained and have been given certificates by the county board, not because they have passed the examination, but because it is necessary to have some kind of negro teacher. Among the negro rural schools which I have visited, I have found only one in which the highest class knew the multiplication table."

The treatment which the negroes received at the hands of the courts and the guardians of the peace constituted another cause of the migration. Negroes largely distrust the courts and have to depend on the influence of their aristocratic white friends. When a white man assaults a negro he is not punished. When a white man kills a negro he is usually freed without extended legal proceedings, but the rule as laid down by the southern judge is usually that when a negro kills a white man, whether or not in self-defense, the negro must die. Negro witnesses count for nothing except when testifying against members of their own race. The testimony of a white man is conclusive in every instance. In no State of the South can a negro woman get a verdict for seduction, nor in most cases enter a suit against a white man; nor, where a white man is concerned, is the law of consent made to apply to a negro girl.

It will be said, however, that such drastic action is not general in the South; but throughout the Black Belt the negroes suffer from arrests and impositions for petty offenses which make their lives sometimes miserable. The large number of negroes owning automobiles is a source of many conflicts. Many collisions, possibly avoidable, have resulted in wresting from the negroes concerned excessive damages which go to increase the returns of the courts. For example, the chauffeur of one of the most influential negroes in Mississippi collided with a white man's car. Although there was sufficient evidence to exonerate the chauffeur concerned, the owner of the vehicle was forced to pay damages and sell his car.[24]

In the Birmingham district of Alabama a striking discrimination is made in the arrests for failure to pay the street tax. Mr. Henry L. Badham, President of the Bessemer Coal, Iron and Land Company, said in commenting on the causes of the migration:

I do not blame the negroes for going away from Birmingham. The treatment that these unfortunate negroes are receiving from the police is enough to make them desire to depart. The newspapers have printed articles about the departure of the laborers from Birmingham. On one page there is a story to the effect that something should be done to prevent the exodus of the negroes to other cities. And then on the same page there appears a little paragraph stating that negroes were arrested for failure to pay $2.50 street tax. The injustice of arresting these negroes for the inability to have $2.50 ready to turn over into the coffers of the city is obvious. While they have been taken into custody, despite their protests that they merely have not a sufficient amount of money with which to meet the demand, you do not see that white men are arrested for the failure to pay the tax. There is no gainsaying the fact that there are thousands of men walking the streets who have not paid a similar sum into the treasury of the city. The negroes ought to get a square deal. When he is without funds, you can not blame him for that. The city police ought to be more reliable, or at least show no favoritism.[25]

The fee system in the courts of the South is one of the most effective causes of the migration. The employers of labor fought this system for eight years and finally got it abolished in Jefferson county, Alabama. Under this system the sheriff received a fee for feeding all prisoners. The greater the number of prisoners, the greater would be the income for the sheriff's office. As a result, it became customary in Jefferson county, Alabama, to arrest negroes in large numbers. Deputy sheriffs would go out to mining camps where there were large numbers of laborers and bring back fifty or more negroes at a time. This condition became unbearable both to the employer and to the employe. Calling attention to the evil of this fee system, Dr. W.H. Oates, State Prison Inspector, said in his annual report for 1914:[26]

The vile, pernicious, pervading fee system beggars description and my vocabulary is inadequate to describe its deleterious and baneful effects. It increases in the management of our jails greed for the almighty dollar. Prisoners are arrested because of the dollar and, shame to say, are frequently kept in captivity for months in steel cages for no other reason than the almighty dollar.

During the fiscal year ending September 30, 1917, Jefferson county had 6,000 prisoners as follows:

In jail at the beginning of the year 328 Incarcerated during the year: White men 1,289 Negro men 3,636 White women 118 Negro women 969 ——- Total 6,340

The fee bill, according to the sheriff's annual report of this department was $37,688.90. As the law provided that for each prisoner the sheriff shall receive 30 cents a day for feeding, and as a matter of fact the sheriff fed them for 10 cents a day, it is clear that he made a net profit of $25,125.94 during one fiscal year or at the same rate for his term of four years, $100,503.76.[27]

Another frequent complaint was directed against the accommodations for travel. It generally happens that the cars are crowded because the amount of space allotted is insufficient, and negroes as a class are denied accommodation in sleeping and dining cars. Usually there is but one toilet for both sexes and the waiting rooms at stations are cut off, unclean and insanitary. Then there are numerous petty offenses, which in themselves appear trifling, but which are spoken of as being on the whole considerably annoying. White men are permitted to come into the negroes' part of the coach and entertain the conductor, newsboy and flagman, all of whom usually make their headquarters there. The drunkards, the insane and other undesirables are forced into this comparment among negro women who have to listen to oaths and vulgar utterances. In stopping at some points, the trains halt the negro car in muddy and abominably disagreeable places; the rudeness and incivility of the public servants are ever apparent, and at the stations the negroes must wait at a separate window until every white passenger has purchased a ticket before he is waited on, although he may be delayed long enough to miss the train.

Both whites and negroes in mentioning the reasons for the movement generally give lynching as one of the most important causes and state that the fear of the mob has greatly accelerated the exodus. Negroes in Florida gave as their reason for going north the horrible lynchings in Tennessee. The white press in Georgia maintained that lynchings were driving the negroes in large numbers from that State. A careful study of the movement, however, shows that bad treatment by representatives of the law caused almost as many negroes to leave the South as lynchings, for, whereas lynchings were more or less sporadic, persecutions and mistreatment by representatives of the law were trials which all negroes had continually to bear and from which they were anxious to escape.[28]

Many of these causes then have their origin on the one hand in the attitude which the South assumes toward the negro as expressed in law and public opinion, and on the other hand in the feeling of the negro toward the South because of the treatment given him. A negro educator of Mississippi sought to explain the situation, saying:

Many white men of high intellectual ability and keen discernment have mistaken the negroes' silence for contentment, his facial expression for satisfaction at prevailing conditions, and his songs and jovial air for happiness.[29] But this is not always so. These are his methods of bearing trouble and keeping his soul sweet under seeming wrongs. In the absence of a spokesman or means of communication with the whites over imagined grievances, he has brightened his countenance, smiled and sung to ease his mind. In the midst of it all he is unable to harmonize with the practices of daily life the teachings of the Bible which the white Christian placed in his hands. He finds it difficult to harmonize the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and his faith is put to the test in the Providence which enslaved his ancestors, corrupted his blood and placed upon him stigmas more damaging than to be a leper or convict by making his color a badge of infamy and his preordained social position at the bottom of human society. So firmly has his status been fixed by this Providence that neither moral worth, fidelity to trust, love of home, loyalty to country, or faith in God can raise him to human recognition.

When he remembers that he has been the beast of burden of southern civilization and the foundation of its luxuriant ease, when he rehearses to his children that he was the South's sole dependence when his master was away repelling hostile armies, and how he worked by day and guarded his unprotected mistress and her children at night, or accompanied his master to the swamps of Virginia and the Carolinas and bound up his wounds or brought his maimed or dead body home on his shoulders, these children can not understand the attitude of the South toward them. They do not understand why they have not been educated to efficiency and employed to the best interest of the South. They do not understand why they have not been given better living conditions, a more equitable division of funds appropriated for the education of the youth, nor provisions made for their higher or professional training, or why so much prejudice is engendered in the practice of these professions among their own people. They do not understand why they have been made to toil at starvation wages and to pay heavy fines and suffer long prison sentences for stealing food and clothing. They do not understand why no estimate is placed upon negro virtue and the full rights of citizenship are denied to negroes of education, character and worth. If some mysterious Providence has ordained that they support themselves and employers by farming, they do not understand why they are deprived of agricultural schools. They do not see why mere prejudice would prevent them from obtaining a square deal when contending for the possessions of life, liberty and property. They do not understand why they are not protected from petty peace officers in search of fees and from mobs while in the hands of officers of the law. Finally, they do not understand why there is so little genuine sympathy and brotherhood between them and the only people they know—the people whose language and customs they use, under whose laws they live, whose Bible they read, whose God they serve. These thoughts possessed the negroes' mind when, twelve months ago, the boll weevil and rains destroyed the crops in the South and the European war was calling foreigners from field and factory in the North.[30]

One should bear in mind that the two generations of negroes living in the South are affected differently by the measures of control of the whites, and in many cases respond differently to treatment received. The older generation of whites and blacks avoided much friction by a sort of mutual understanding. The children of colored and white parents come less frequently into friendly contact and find it difficult to live together on the terms accepted by their fathers. Negro parents appreciate this situation but, although admitting that they can tolerate the position to which they are assigned, they do not welcome such an arrangement for their children. For this reason they are not reluctant to send their sons away from home. Should the children remain there, they live in a state of anxiety for their safety. They would not have them grow up as they, encompassed by restraints, and the young men themselves appear to entertain toward the prevailing system a more aggressive hostility.

A woman of color in Greenville, Mississippi, for example, had a son in a northern State and was afraid to invite him home to pay a visit because, as she stated, "for him to accept the same abuses to which we, his parents, are accustomed, would make him much less than the man we would have him be." Another negro, a physician, the "Nestor" of his profession, having practiced in his State over thirty-five years, said:

Sir, I can't expect my son to accept the treatment under which I have been brought up. My length of residence here and the number of friends whom I know of the older and more aristocratic type of whites will protect me but as for him, there is no friendship. Now, as for me, there is no reason why I should leave. I am making as much money as I could anywhere else and all of the white people respect me. But I am just one out of a thousand. The younger men have neither my contact nor influence.

A lawyer of remarkable talent formerly of Mississippi, now living with his children in Chicago, who had felt keenly this humiliation and recognized it as one of the motives behind his change of residence, thus stated the situation:

One peculiar phase of the white southern prejudice is that no matter how well liked or popular a colored man be in any community, his son does not share that popularity unless he enters a field of endeavor distinctly lower in the scale than that occupied by his parent. My experience goes both ways on this subject. My stepfather was a dearly beloved colored man of the old school, but when he sent me off to Oberlin College I returned to find that the community in which I had been beloved as a boy in attendance at the rude country school looked at me askance. It took twenty years to overcome the handicap of attempting to occupy a higher sphere than that to which the community thought it right to assign me. My experiences were repeated by my son. He was a well liked boy by the best people in a city of about twenty-five thousand, because he was my son and was polite and agreeable. When he went to a nearby Mississippi college and worked in his summer vacations in a local industrial plant, they still thought well of him, but when it was learned that he was being graduated at Oberlin College, and his picture appeared in a college year book, among others, my intimate white friends wanted to know the necessity for so much education and, with a shrug of the shoulder, they let all mention of him drop, as if he had offended the most sacred laws of the community. This spirit appeared so marked that I did not have him come back to visit his mother and me during the summer vacation. I have seen the same spirit in many instances. No man can explain why it is, but it is so.[31]

[Footnote 17: New York Times, September 5, 9, 28, 1916.]

[Footnote 18: Ibid., October 18, 28; November 5, 7, 12, 15; December 4, 9, 1916.]

[Footnote 19: Work, Report on Negro Migration from Alabama.]

[Footnote 20: Work and Johnson, Report on the Migration during the World War.]

[Footnote 21: Attractive advertisements appeared in negro newspapers with wide circulation in the South. These are from the Chicago Defender.

"Wanted—10 molders. Must be experienced. $4.50 to $5.50 per day. Write B.F.R. Defender Office."

"Wanted—25 girls for dishwashing. Salary $7 a week and board. John R. Thompson, Restaurant, 314 South State Street. Call between 7 and 8 a.m. Ask for Mr. Brown."

"Wanted—25 young men as bus boys and porters. Salary $8 per week and board. John R. Thompson, Restaurant, 314 South State Street. Call between 7 and 8 a.m. Ask for Mr. Brown."

"Molders wanted. Good pay, good working conditions. Firms supply cottages for married men. Apply T.L. Jefferson, 3439 State Street.

"Ten families and 50 men wanted at once for permanent work in the Connecticut tobacco fields. Good wages. Inquire National League on Urban Conditions among Negroes, 2303 Seventh Avenue, New York City, New York."

"Molders wanted. A large manufacturing concern, ninety miles from Chicago, is in need of experienced molders. Wages from $3 to $5.50. Extra for overtime. Transportation from Chicago only. Apply Chicago League on Urban Conditions among Negroes. T. Arnold Hill, Executive Secretary, 3719 State Street, Chicago."

"Laborers wanted for foundry, warehouse and yard work. Excellent opportunity to learn trades, paying good money. Start $2.50—$2.75 per day. Extra for overtime. Transportation advanced from Chicago only. Apply Chicago League on Urban Conditions among Negroes, 3719 South State Street. Chicago."

"Experienced machinists, foundrymen, pattern makers wanted, for permanent work in Massachusetts. Apply National League on Urban Conditions among Negroes, 2303 7th Ave., New York City."

"3,000 laborers to work on railroad. Factory hires all race help. More positions open than men for them."

"Men wanted at once. Good steady employment for colored. Thirty and 39-1/2 cents per hour. Weekly payments. Good warm sanitary quarters free. Best commissary privileges. Towns of Newark and Jersey City. Fifteen minutes by car line offer cheap and suitable homes for men with families. For out of town parties of ten or more cheap transportation will be arranged. Only reliable men who stay on their job are wanted. Apply or write Butterworth Judson Corporation, Box 273, Newark, New Jersey, or Daniel T. Brantley, 315 West 119th Street, New York City."

"$3.60 per day can be made in a steel foundry in Minnesota, by strong, healthy, steady men. Open only to men living in Chicago. Apply in person. Chicago League on Urban Conditions among Negroes, 3719 South State Street, Chicago, Illinois."]

[Footnote 22: An investigator in Mississippi reports the following:

The school population is 60 per cent colored. There are seven white and two colored schools. The average salaries paid to white assistant teachers is $75 per month. The average salaries paid to colored assistant teachers is $32.50 per month. The average number of pupils taught by white is 30 and the average number taught by colored is 100.

In the county there are no agricultural high schools or in fact high schools of any kind. The whites in the same county have an agricultural high school of "magnificent proportions" and "excellent facilities," a literary high school and about ten consolidated schools.

Negroes complain that the authorities are building white schools in communities where the negro population is five times as great. When they first sought to establish these consolidated schools, there was a provision that every one must pay taxes to support them. Negroes who were required to pay large taxes refused because they were denied the benefits of the schools. A law was passed with the provision that the majority of qualified electors in a county supervisor's district might secure one of these schools on petition to the Board of Supervisors and with the understanding that they would pay taxes. But negroes are not qualified electors and consequently have no schools.

In Liberty Grove the white school goes to the twelfth grade, with courses also in music. Automobiles bring the children to school and carry them back. The negro school in the same community has only one teacher getting $25 per month and teaching over 200 children. There are two large negro denominational schools, Jackson College and Campbell College which serve to supplement the public schools provided by the city.]

[Footnote 23: Jones, Negro Education, vol. II, pp. 14, 15, Bulletin, 1916, No. 30 of the United States Bureau of Education.]

[Footnote 24: Work and Johnson, Report on the Migration during the World War.]

[Footnote 25: Montgomery Advertiser.]

[Footnote 26: Annual Report of the Prison Inspector of Alabama, 1914.]

[Footnote 27: Report of the Sheriff of Jefferson County, Alabama, 1917.]

[Footnote 28: Work and Johnson, Report on the Migration during the World War.]

[Footnote 29: Mr. Charles S. Johnson reports the following from Mississippi: "The police of most of the cities are rough and indiscriminate in their treatment of negroes. At the depot during the summer, on several occasions, negro porters were severely beaten by policemen for trivial reasons. This, it was said, started a stream of young men that cleaned the town of porters.

"Fee constables made their living from arresting negroes, indiscriminately, on trivial charges. A white man, to whom a prominent negro physician had gone for advice on a case concerning his arrest on a charge of having no lights on his automobile, said, 'If I were a negro, I would rather appear before a Russian court than come before a court here for trial.'"]

[Footnote 30: Work and Johnson, Report on the Migration during the World War.]

[Footnote 31: Work and Johnson, Report on the Migration during the World War.]



It is not surprising that the exodus grew so contagious when viewed in the light of the numerous factors which played a part in influencing its extension. Considering the temper of the South and its attitude toward any attempt to reduce its labor supply, it is readily apparent that leaders who openly encouraged the exodus would be in personal danger. There were, of course, some few who did venture to voice their belief in it, but they were in most cases speedily silenced. A Methodist minister was sent to jail because he was said to have been enticing laborers to go north and work for a New York firm, which would give employment to fifty of his people. The tactics adopted by influential persons who favored the movement, therefore, were of necessity covert and very much guarded.

One of the chief stimuli was discussion. The very fact that negroes were leaving in large numbers was a disturbing factor. The talk in the barber shops and grocery stores where men were wont to assemble soon began to take the form of reasons for leaving. There it was the custom to review all the instances of mistreatment and injustice which fell to the lot of the negro in the South. It was here also that letters from the North were read and fresh news on the exodus was first given out. In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, it was stated that for a while there was no subject of discussion but the migration. "The packing houses in Chicago for a while seemed to be everything," said one negro. "You could not rest in your bed at night for Chicago." Chicago came to be so common a word that they began to call it "Chi." Men went down to talk with the Chicago porters on the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad which ran through the town. They asked questions about the weather in Chicago. The report was that it was the same as in Hattiesburg.[32]

In every circle the advisability of leaving was debated. In the churches the pastors, seeing their flocks leaving, at first attempted to dissuade them. The people refused to come to church. In the church meetings there were verbal clashes on the matter of the attitude toward the migration. Some few had been careful enough to go north and investigate for themselves and friends. A man learned of the North through a friend whose relatives wrote him from that section. He, thereupon, decided to pay a visit of two weeks, going in August. The attitude of the North overwhelmed him. At Fulton, Kentucky, while he was on the train a white man was sitting in front of him. He wanted to ask him a question but hesitated fearing that he would be rebuffed. He finally addressed the stranger, who answered him courteously and kindly, calling his attention to other points of interest in the North. At Gary, Indiana, he met a gentleman who said he had been mayor of Gary for seven years. He described the Gary school system and promised him an education for his children. He was assured employment at $4 a day for eight hours' work.[33]

A still more powerful, though insidious factor, was the work of public speakers who hid their intentions behind their unique method of presentation. In a lecture on the question of migration a speaker, who is a widely known character, made these remarks:

So many of my folks are leaving that I thought I'd go up and see whether or not they had made a mistake. I found thousands of old friends up there making more money than they'd ever made in their lives. I said to one woman in Chicago, "Well, Sister ——, I see you're here." "Yes, Brother ——, I'm here, thank the Lord." "Do you find it any colder up here than it was in Mississippi?" "Did I understand you correctly to say cold? Honey, I mean it's cold. It is some cold." "But you expect to return, don't you?" "Don't play with me, chile. What am I going to return for? I should say not. Up here you see when I come out on the street I walk on nice smooth pavements. Down home I got to walk home through the mud. Up here at nights it don't matter much about coming home from church. Down home on my street there ain't a single lamp post. And say, honey, I got a bath tub!"[34]

He related the instance of his visit to an automobile plant where he was met at the door by a "stalwart, handsome, six-footer as black as midnight." He asked his companion the name of this "potentate." He was told that this man was an experienced machinist. Every car that passed out of that plant must have his O.K. He added further that his salary was something like $100 a week and that the incident showed the unlimited chance for expansion in the North. When he began to enumerate some of the positions which "men of the race" were holding, the audience became enthusiastic beyond control. One man in the audience, who had been to Detroit, could restrain himself no longer and stood up to inform the audience that there were also colored street car conductors and motormen and that he had seen them with his own eyes. The speaker paid no attention to this interruption and the audience appeared not to notice it, but began to exchange reports among themselves. The speaker added that he had found negroes in the North, well dressed and looking like men—for the first time in their lives—men who were simply "bums" at home. In excusing the indisposition of some negroes toward work, he said, "How in the world can you expect a man to work faithfully all day long for fifty cents?"[35]

Among the important stimuli were the rumors in circulation. When a community is wrought up, it is less difficult to believe remarkable tales. To persons beyond the influence of this excitement it is somewhat difficult to conceive how the rumor that the Germans were on their way through Texas to take the southern States could have been believed. And yet it is reported that this extravagant fiction was taken seriously in some quarters. On the outskirts of Meridian, Mississippi, a band of gypsies was encamped. The rumor gained circulation that the Indians were coming back to retake their land lost years ago. It was further rumored that the United States Government was beginning a scheme to transport all negroes from the South to break up the Black Belt. Passed from mouth to mouth, unrestrainedly these reports became verities.

It was further asserted on the word and honor "of one in position to know" that the Chicago packing houses needed and would get fifty thousand negroes before the end of the year. One explanation of the belief that the South was overrun with labor agents was the fact that every strange face came to be recognized as a man from the North looking for laborers. If he denied it, they simply thought he was concealing his identity from the police, and if he said nothing, his silence was regarded as sufficient affirmation. Hundreds of disappointments are to be traced to the rumor that a train would leave on a certain date. Hundreds would come to the station prepared to leave and, when no agent appeared, purchased their own tickets.

The questions of wages and privileges were grossly featured. Some men, on being questioned, supposed that it was possible for every common laborer to receive from $4 to $10 a day, and that $50 a week was not an unusual wage. The strength of this belief has been remarked by several social agencies in the North which attempted to supply the immigrants with work. The actual wages paid, though much in excess of those they had been receiving, were often disappointing. Similarly in the matter of privilege and "rights" it was later revealed that unbounded liberty was not to be found in the North. The singular cases of misconduct, against which the more sober minded preached, possibly had their root in the beautiful and one-sided pictures of the North which came to the South.

The Chicago Defender, a weekly negro newspaper, with its pronounced radical utterances, its criticism of the South, its policy of retaliation, etc., contributed greatly to the exodus.[36] Its influence can be imagined when, after reading the southern white papers with only occasional references to the negroes which might be called commendable and numerous articles which were for the most part distasteful, negroes could read the things they wanted to hear most, expressed in a manner in which they would not dare express them. It voiced the unexpressed thoughts of many and made accusations for which they themselves would have been severely handled. Freud's theory of the suppressed wish finds a happy illustration in this rage over the Chicago Defender. Expressed in terms of figures, the circulation of the paper at the beginning of the movement was something like 50,000. In 1918 it had grown to 125,000. It had a large circulation in Mississippi and the supply was usually bought up on the first day of its arrival. Copies were passed around until worn out. One prominent negro asserted that "negroes grab the Defender like a hungry mule grabs fodder." In Gulfport, Mississippi, a man was regarded "intelligent" if he read the Defender. It was said that in Laurel, Mississippi, old men who did not know how to read would buy it because it was regarded as precious.

It was this paper that named the exodus "The Great Northern Drive," and set the date May 15th, announced the arrivals and took responsibility for inducing "the poor brethren" from the South. It was accused of ruining Hattiesburg, Mississippi, by promoting this rush to the North. The sale of this paper was, therefore, forbidden in several towns in the South. A correspondent said: "White people are paying more attention to the race in order to keep them in the South, but the Chicago Defender has emblazoned upon their minds 'Bound for the Promised Land.'"

In answer to the warnings of the South against the rigors of the northern winters, the Defender said:

To die from the bite of frost is far more glorious than at the hands of a mob. I beg you, my brother, to leave the benighted land. You are a free man. Show the world that you will not let false leaders lead you. Your neck has been in the yoke. Will you continue to keep it there because some "white folks' nigger" wants you to? Leave for all quarters of the globe. Get out of the South. Your being there in the numbers in which you are gives the southern politician too strong a hold on your progress.... So much has been said through the white papers in the South about the members of the race freezing to death in the North. They freeze to death down South when they don't take care of themselves. There is no reason for any human being staying in the Southland on this bugaboo handed out by the white press.[37]

If you can freeze to death in the North and be free, why freeze to death in the South and be a slave, where your mother, sister and daughter are raped and burned at the stake; where your father, brother and sons are treated with contempt and hung to a pole, riddled with bullets at the least mention that he does not like the way he is treated. Come North then, all you folks, both good and bad. If you don't behave yourselves up here, the jails will certainly make you wish you had. For the hard-working man there is plenty of work—if you really want it. The Defender says come.[38]

The idea that the South is a bad place, unfit for the habitation of colored folk, was duly emphasized. Conditions most distasteful to negroes were exaggerated and given first prominence. In this the Defender had a clear field, for the local colored newspapers dared not make such unrestrained utterances.[39] In fact, reading the Chicago Defender provided a very good substitute for the knowledge which comes through travel. It had the advantage of bringing the North to them. Without fear of exaggeration it is safe to say its policy was successful in inciting thousands of restless negroes to venture north, where they were assured of its protection and the championship of their cause. There are in Chicago migrants who attribute their presence in the North to its encouraging pictures of relief from conditions at home with which they became more and more dissatisfied, as they read.

The setting of a definite date was another stimulus. The great northern drive was scheduled to begin May 15, 1917. This date, or the week following, singularly corresponds with the date of the heaviest rush to the North, the periods of greatest temporary congestion and the awakening of the North to the presence of their guests. Letters to the Chicago Defender and to the social agencies in the North informed them that they were preparing to come in the great drive. One of many such letters received is presented.

April 24, 1917.

Mr. R.S. Abbott,

Editor, the Chicago Defender,


I have been reading the Defender for one year or more, and last February I read about the great northern drive to take place May 15, on Thursday, and now I can hear so many people speaking of an excursion to the North on the 15th of May for $3. My husband is in the North already working, and he wants us to come up in May, so I want to know if it is true about the excursion. I am getting ready and, oh, so many others also, and we want to know is that true so we can be in the drive. So please answer at once. We are getting ready.


This was perhaps the most popular date, but there were others, of which August 15 was one. Usually the dates set were for Wednesday and Saturday nights, following pay days.

Personal appeals in the form of letters have a recognized weight in influencing action. The United States mail was about the most active and efficient labor agent. The manner in which the first negroes left made great opportunities for letter writing. It is to be remembered that the departure of one person was regarded always in the light of an experiment. The understanding existed between a man and his friends that he would honestly inform them of conditions in the North. Letters were passed around and read before large groups. A woman from Hattiesburg is accredited with having sent back a letter which enticed away over 200 persons. A tailor who had settled in a town of white people in the West wrote a letter which was read in a church. It explained the advantages of the free schools open to all, and the privilege to ride and to go where one pleases. The reading of the letter brought forth long and loud applause. A man who had left home, writes back to his friend yet undecided:

Mike, old boy, I was promoted on the first of the month. I was made first assistant to the head carpenter. When he is out of place I take everything in charge and was raised to $95 per month. You know I know my stuff. What's the news generally around H'burg? I should have been here twenty years ago. I just begin to feel like a man. It's a great deal of pleasure in knowing that you have got some privileges. My children are going to the same school with the whites and I don't have to humble to no one. I have registered. Will vote the next election and there isn't any 'yes, sir, and no, sir.' It's all yes and no, and no, Sam, and Bill.

The man has long since been joined by his friend.

The pastor of a Hattiesburg church received a letter from one of his members with the extravagant assertion that the people whose funerals he had preached were in Chicago (meaning Heaven) because they were good Christians. To give assurance on the question of weather migrants in the North would mention the fact that they were writing with their coats off. A fact which strengthened the belief in the almost incredible wages offered in the North was the money sent back to the families in the South. A man whose wife had preceded him wrote that she was making $3.50 a day in charge of a bluing works in Chicago, and actually sent home $15 every two weeks. Another man wrote that he was in Gary working at his trade making sometimes as much as $7 a day. He sent home $30 every two weeks. Fully one-half, or perhaps even more of those who left, did so at the solicitation of friends through correspondence.[40]

Despite the restraints on loose talk in encouragement of the exodus, there were other means of keeping the subject alive. One method, of course, was the circulation of literature from the North. One of the most novel schemes was that of a negro dentist in a southern town who had printed on the reverse side of his business cards quotations from rather positive assertions by northerners on the migration.[41] The northern press early welcomed the much needed negro laborers to the North and leaders of thought in that section began to upbraid the South for its antagonistic attitude towards the welfare of the negroes, who at last had learned to seek a more congenial home.

A stronger influence than this, though not quite so frequent, was the returned migrant who was a living example of the prosperity of the North. It was a frequent complaint that these men were as effective as labor agents in urging negro laborers to go north. There are reported numerous instances of men who came to visit their families and returned with thirty to forty men. It has been suspected, and with a strong suggestion of truth, that many of these were supplied with funds for the trip by the northern firms which employed them. A woman whose daughter had gone north had been talking of her daughter's success. The reports were so opposite to the record of the girl at home that they were not taken seriously. Soon, however, the daughter came home with apparently unlimited money and beautiful clothes, and carried her mother back with her. This was sufficient. It was remarked afterwards: "If she can make $2.50 a day as lazy as she was, I know I can make $4."[42]

The labor agents were a very important factor in stimulating the movement. The number at work in the South appears to have been greatly exaggerated. Agents were more active in large cities where their presence was not so conspicuous. It was difficult to discover because of the very guarded manner in which they worked. One, for example, would walk briskly down the street through a group of negroes and, without turning his head, would say in a low tone, "Anybody want to go to Chicago, see me." That was sufficient. Many persons were found to remark frequently on the strange silence which negroes en masse managed to maintain concerning the movement of the agents. A white man remarked that it was the first time there had ever happened anything about which he could not get full information from some negro. Agents were reported, at one time or another, in every section from which the migrants went. When the vigilance of the authorities restricted their activities they began working through the mails. Many sections were flooded with letters from the North to persons whose names had been obtained from migrants in the North or through a quiet canvass of the community by unobstructed solicitors.[43]

Poems on the migration were also strong stimuli. In some instances arrests of persons circulating them were made. A bit of poetry which received widespread popularity was one called "Bound for the Promised Land." It was said that this piece of poetry was responsible for much trouble. The Chicago Defender reported on June 1, 1917, that five young men were arraigned before Judge John E. Schwartz of Savannah, Georgia, for reading poetry. The police contended that they were inciting riot in the city and over Georgia. Two of the men were sent for thirty days to Brown Farm, a place not fit for human beings. Tom Amaca was arrested for having "Bound for the Promised Land," a poem which had been recently published in the Defender. J.N. Chisholm and A.P. Walker were arrested there because they were said to be the instigators.[44] Another very popular poem widely circulated was entitled "Farewell! We're Good and Gone." It was said that this poem influenced thousands to go. Other poems on the migration were "Northward Bound," "The Land of Hope" and "Negro Migration" and "The Reason Why."

[Footnote 32: Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]

[Footnote 33: Ibid.]

[Footnote 34: Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]

[Footnote 35: Ibid.]

[Footnote 36: Some of the material prepared by the Defender for consumption in the South was as follows:

"Turn a deaf ear to everybody. You see they are not lifting their laws to help you, are they? Have they stopped their Jim Crow cars? Can you buy a Pullman sleeper where you wish? Will they give you a square deal in court yet? When a girl is sent to prison she becomes the mistress of the guards and others in authority, and women prisoners are put on the streets to work—something they don't do to a white woman. And our leaders will tell you the South is the best place for you. Turn a deaf ear to the scoundrel, and let him stay. Above all, see to it that that jumping-jack preacher is left in the South, for he means you no good here in the North.... Once upon a time we permitted other people to think for us—today we are thinking and acting for ourselves, with the result that our 'friends' are getting alarmed at our progress. We'd like to oblige these unselfish (?) souls and remain slaves in the South; but to other sections of the country we have said, as the song goes, 'I hear you calling me,' and have boarded the train, singing, 'Good-bye, Dixie Land.'"]

[Footnote 37: The following clippings are taken from these white papers:

"Aged Negro Frozen to Death—Albany, Ga., February 8.

"Yesterday the dead body of Peter Crowder, an old negro, was found in an out-of-the-way place where he had been frozen to death during the recent cold snap."—Macon Telegraph.

"Dies from Exposure—Spartanburg, S.C., February 6.

"Marshall Jackson, a negro man, who lived on the farm of J.T. Harris near Campobello, Sunday night froze to death."—South Carolina State.

"Negro Frozen to Death in Fireless Gretna Hut.

"Coldest weather in the last four years claimed a victim Friday night, when Archie Williams, a negro, was frozen to death in his bed in a little hut in the outskirts of Gretna."—New Orleans Item, February 4.

"Negro Woman Frozen to Death Monday.

"Harriet Tolbert, an aged negro woman, was frozen to death in her home at 18 Garibaldi Street early Monday morning during the severe cold."—Atlanta Constitution, February 6.]

[Footnote 38: Articles such as the following kept alive the spirit of the exodus:

"Tampa, Florida, January 19. J.T. King, supposed to be a race leader, is using his wits to get on the good side of the white people by calling a meeting to urge our people not to migrate north. King has been termed a 'good nigger' by his pernicious activity on the emigration question. Reports have been received here that all who have gone north are at work and pleased with the splendid conditions in the North. It is known here that in the North there is a scarcity of labor; mills and factories are open to them. People are not paying any attention to King and are packing and ready to travel north to the 'promised land.'"

"Jackson, Miss., March 23. J.H. Thomas, Birmingham, Alabama, Brownsville Colony, has been here several weeks and is very much pleased with the North. He is working at the Pullman Shops, making twice as much as he did at home. Mr. Thomas says the 'exodus' will be greater later on in the year, that he did not find four feet of snow or would freeze to death. He lives at 346 East Thirty-fifth St."

"Huntsville, Alabama, January 19. Fifteen families, all members of the race, left here today for Pittsburgh, Pa., where they will take positions as butlers and maids, getting sixty to seventy-five dollars a month against fifteen and twenty paid here. Most of them claim that they have letters from their friends who went early and made good saying that there was plenty of work, and this field of labor is short owing to the vast amount of men having gone to Europe and not returned."

"Shreveport, La., April 13. The Business Men's League held a meeting here and the white daily papers reported that it was for the purpose of discouraging people from going north. The meeting had no such object. On the other hand, members of the race claim that on May 15th they will be found leaving with the great northern drive."

"The northern invasion has already started, much earlier than predicted. Many members of the race refused to wait until spring. They have started despite the snow and cold. Last week thirty-one came here from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and said they intended to stay. They were well clothed, having heavy overcoats and rubber overshoes."

"Memphis, Tenn., June 1. Your correspondent took a walk to Central station Saturday night just to see what was going on, and to his surprise and delight, he saw gathered there between 1,500 and 2,000 race men and women. Number 4, due to leave for Chicago at 8:00 o'clock, was held up twenty minutes so that those people who hadn't purchased tickets might be taken aboard. It was necessary to add two additional eighty-foot steel coaches to the Chicago train in order to accommodate the race people, and at the lowest calculation there were more than 1,200 taken aboard."

"St. Louis, Mo., May 11. The Defender propaganda to leave sections of the South where they find conditions intolerable is receiving a hearty response. A communication was received by a Defender representative last week from Houston, Texas, asking for information relative to conditions in this city and the writer stated a number of persons were planning to leave Houston for this city later on. The information was promptly and cheerfully given."

"Tallulah, La., January 19. This time it's a professor. Heretofore it has been the preachers who have been paid by the white men of the South to tell our people that the North is no place for them. A bigger lie never was uttered. But now it is a professor. He is licking the white man's hand to hold a little $35 job as a backwoods school teacher. He got his name in the papers (white) as 'good nigger.' Just because this 'would-be professor' has been making speeches, asking that our people remain here and be treated like dogs, they are starting a crusade north, and by Easter there will not be one left to tell the tale."]

[Footnote 39: "Forest City, Ark., February 16. David B. Smith (white) is on trial for life for the brutal murder of a member of the race, W.H. Winford, who refused to be whipped like others. This white man had the habit of making his 'slave' submit to this sort of punishment and when Winford refused to stand for it, he was whipped to death with a 'black snake' whip. The trial of Smith is attracting very little attention. As a matter of fact, the white people here think nothing of it as the dead man is a 'nigger.' This very act, coupled with other recent outrages that have been heaped upon our people, are causing thousands to leave, not waiting for the great spring movement in May."]

[Footnote 40: Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]

[Footnote 41: "There is no class of people and no ethical question that will not feel the effects of the war. The negroes of this country who go to France to fight, or who replace workingmen who go as soldiers will demand, and justly so, full American rights. The United States can not stand before the world as the champion of freedom and democracy and continue to burn men alive and lynch them without fair trial. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People calls upon this country to 'clear her conscience before she can fight for the world's good,' by abolishing lynching and ceasing all oppression of negroes. This is a national problem and more particularly one of the South. In Europe there are practically no race distinctions. A negro can mix with white folk as an equal, just as a Spaniard, for example, does here; even intermarriage is not regarded as miscegenation. The race problem here is a different matter, however, as even the more intelligent negroes themselves will acknowledge. The negro should be assured all the protection and rights that go with American citizenship, but in this is not involved intermarriage or social equality."—Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, October 13, 1917.

"The foreign laborer has been called home to bear arms for his country. The daily death toll and waste and the recently enacted immigration law make it certain that he will not soon return in great numbers. As a result a large market exists for the negro laborer in localities in which he would have been considered an impudent trespasser had he attempted to enter a few years ago. The history of the world from the days of Moses to the present shows that where one race has been subjugated, oppressed or proscribed by another and exists in large numbers, permanent relief has come in one or two ways—amalgamation or migration. The thought of amalgamation is not to be entertained. If conditions in the South for the colored man are to be permanently improved, many of those who now live there should migrate and scatter throughout the North, East and West. I believe the present opportunity providential."—Hon. John C. Ashbury, Philadelphia Bar.

"This is the psychological moment to say to the American white government from every pulpit and platform and through every newspaper, 'Yes, we are loyal and patriotic. Boston Common, Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Fort Pillow, Appomattox, San Juan Hill and Carrizal will testify to our loyalty. While we love our flag and country, we do not believe in fighting for the protection of commerce on the high seas until the powers that be give us at least some verbal assurance that the property and lives of the members of our race are going to be protected on land from Maine to Mississippi.' Let us have the courage to say to the white American people, 'Give us the same rights which you enjoy, and then we will fight by your side with all of our might for every international right on land and sea.' If this kind of talk is not loyalty, then I am disloyal; if this is not patriotism, then I am unpatriotic; if this is treason, then I am a traitor. It is not that I love Caesar less, but these black Romans more, who have been true to the flag for two hundred and fifty years. It is infinitely more disgraceful and outrageous to hang and burn colored men, boys and women without a trial in the times of peace than it is for Germans in times of war to blow up ships loaded with mules and molasses."—Reverend A. Clayton Powell, New York, N.Y.]

[Footnote 42: Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]

[Footnote 43: Work and Johnson, Report on the Migration during the World War.]

[Footnote 44: Ibid.]



In the first communities visited by representatives of northern capital, their offers created unprecedented commotion. Drivers and teamsters left their wagons standing in the street. Workers, returning home, scrambled aboard the trains for the North without notifying their employers or their families. The crowds that blackened the pool rooms and "hangouts" faded away as the trains continued to leave. Wild rumors about the North crept into circulation and received unquestioning credence. Songs about Pennsylvania, the spontaneous expression of anxiety and joy over the sudden revelation of a new world, floated about on the lips of the children. Homes were thrown on the market and sold at ruinously low prices.

It was observed that the beginnings in each new community exhibited the same characteristics. This is due in part to a pretty universal state of unrest among negroes throughout the South. Although the first State entered by representatives of northern capital was Florida, their efforts were not confined to that commonwealth. And again, although the Pennsylvania and Erie Railroads were the first to import negroes in large numbers, they were not alone in the field very long. The steel mills of the East and the railroads of the West soon followed—each selecting States from which egress was easy and convenient. The authorities of the cities of Florida, when they began to engage themselves in the suppression of recruiting agents, succeeded in scattering them to other fields where their mere presence, preceded as it was by the news of their mission in the South, was sufficient to attract, first, all of the landless labor, then to loosen the steady workman wedded to the soil, and finally to carry away the best of the working classes. Quite naturally southeastern Georgia was the second district to feel the drain of the exodus. These workers were carried into Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey for the maintenance work of the roads. North Carolina was next entered; then finally Virginia which had been sending many negroes into New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey for a number of years.[45]

Numerous illustrations show the popular state of mind at the beginning, when every one was feverish. Men would loudly decry the folly of breaking up their homes, the result of years of unrelenting toil, and venturing into the unknown North, and within less than twenty-four hours, would leave themselves. A good citizen would talk with another about the apparent insanity of those negroes who had "contracted the northern fever." They would condemn their acts with their strongest words. Hardly before another day could pass, one of the two would disappear, having imitated the recklessness of the very people he had so recently condemned.

One man in telling of how they acted, asserts "You could see a man today and he would be calling the people who were leaving all kinds of names; he could even beat you when it came to calling them fools for going north. The next day when you met him he wouldn't talk so loud and the next day he wouldn't let you see him. That would be the last of him, because, unless you went to the depot, you wouldn't see him again. Whenever I saw them shying off from me, I always knew what they had up their sleeves." It was "just naturally fashionable" to leave for the North. A man would make up his mind to go and proceed forthwith to persuade his friends. If they refused, they no longer had any interests in common. In talking with a man who had persistently refused to leave, he declared that he had lost practically every friend he had, simply because he did not agree with them on "the northern question." For the pastors of churches it was a most trying ordeal. They must watch their congregations melt away and could say nothing. If they spoke in favor of the movement, they were in danger of a clash with the authorities. If they discouraged it, they were accused of being bought up to hold negroes in bondage. If a pastor attempted to persuade negroes to stay, his congregation and his collection would be cut down and in some cases his resignation demanded. In some of the smaller communities the pastors settled this difficulty by following their flock, as was the case of three who left Hattiesburg, Mississippi, following their congregations. Two lumber companies in Mississippi employed a negro to lecture for the purpose of discouraging the exodus. He was handsomely paid, but he was unheeded. Even now he is held in contempt by his former friends.

The devout and religious saw God in the movement. It was inspired, they said, else why could so many thousand negroes all be obsessed at once with the same impulse. There were set afloat rumors that a great calamity was about to befall the Southland. In Georgia and Alabama, hundreds believed that God had cursed the land when he sent droughts and floods and destructive pests to visit them. The number of negroes needed in the North was counted in millions; the wages offered were fabulous and the letters that came from the vanguard painted pictures of a land of plenty. From some communities a small group would leave, promising to inform those behind of the actual state of affairs. For a week or more there would follow a tense period of "watchful waiting" and never ending anxiety, when finally there would arrive a card bearing the terse report "Everything pritty," or "Home ain't nothing like this." On this assurance, a reckless disposition of household effects would follow.[46]

The towns quite naturally were the first to feel the effect. There, the pass rider—the labor agent—could move about more freely. People lived in closer contact and news circulated more rapidly; the papers came in regularly and the negroes themselves could see those leaving. On market days when the country folk reached town they got their first impulse from the commotion. Young country boys failed to return to quiet isolation, and sturdy sensible farmers whose whole lives had been spent on the farm, could not resist the temptation. As they returned they informed their neighbors, saying: "They are leaving town by the thousands," or "Man, colored folks are leaving in droves for the North." There are cases of men who left their fields half plowed and journeyed to the city and thence to the North. In other communities, the beginning would be a timid dribble to the larger cities or directly to the North.[47]

The state of mind of the community under the influence of the first effects of the "fever" is illustrated in authenticated accounts of persons who witnessed the exodus from different cities:

The most interesting thing is how these people left. They were selling out everything they had or in a manner giving it away; selling their homes, mules, horses, cows, and everything about them but their trunks. All around in the country, people who were so old they could not very well get about were leaving. Some left with six to eight very small children and babies half clothed, no shoes on their feet, hungry, not anything to eat and not even a cent over their train fare. Some would go to the station and wait there three or four days for an agent who was carrying them on passes. Others of this city would go in clubs of fifty and a hundred at a time in order to get reduced rates. They usually left on Wednesday and Saturday nights. One Wednesday night I went to the station to see a friend of mine who was leaving. I could not get in the station, there were so many people turning like bees in a hive. Officers would go up and down the tracks trying to keep the people back. One old lady and man had gotten on the train. They were patting their feet and singing and a man standing nearby asked, "Uncle, where are you going?" The old man replied, "Well, son, I'm gwine to the promised land."[48]

"When the laboring man got paid off," said a Jackson, Mississippi, man, "he bought himself a suit of overalls and a paper valise and disappeared." Even the young married women refused to wait any longer than the time required to save railroad fare. It's strange that when a negro got a notion to leave and he could not sell or give away, he simply locked up his house and left the key with his neighbor. Families with $1,000 worth of furniture have been known to sell it for $150. A negro in Jackson was buying a $1,000 house, on which he had paid $700. When the "fever" struck the town, he sold it for $100 and left.

There was related this instance of a number of negro laborers:

On a plantation in south Georgia, where fifteen or more families were farming as tenants, there had been a great deal of confusion and suffering among the people because of the lack of sufficient food and clothing. There were the Joneses, a family of nine, the Harrisons, a family of ten, and the Battles, a family of six. No family on the place had an allowance of more than $25 per month for food and clothing. When this allowance gave out, nothing could be gotten until the next month and the tenants dared not leave their farms to work elsewhere. The owner of this plantation lived in town ten miles away and only visited the farm about once a week. Much to his surprise, on one of his weekly visits, he found all the homes and farms deserted except one. On that were two old men, Uncle Ben and Uncle Joe, who had been left behind because they were unable to secure passes. Uncle Ben and Uncle Joe sorrowfully told the landlord all that had happened, emphasizing the fact that they were the only ones who had remained loyal to him. Then they told him their needs. The landlord, thinking that the old negroes were so faithful, rewarded them with a good sum of money and left with the assurance that they would see to the crops being worked. No sooner had the landlord left than these old men with grips packed and with the money they had received, boarded the train to join their companions in the North.[49]

As an example of the irresistible force which characterized the movement, one old negro made the remark: "I sorter wanted to go myself. I didn't know just where I wanted to go. I just wanted to git away with the rest of them." A woman in speaking of the torture of solitude which she experienced after the first wave passed over her town, said: "You could go out on the street and count on your fingers all the colored people you saw during the entire day. Now and then a disconsolate looking Italian storekeeper would come out in the street, look up and down and walk back. It was a sad looking place, and so quiet it gave you the shivers."[50]

In the heat of the excitement families left carrying members dangerously ill. There is reported one interesting case of a family with one of its members sick with pneumonia. As soon as the woman was able to sit up, she was carried away. At St. Louis it was found necessary to stop because of her condition. Finding that she could not recover, they proceeded to Chicago, where she died. Several of the migrants have seen fit to make heroes of themselves by declining to return to the South even on the advice of a physician. Thus, a certain minister is said to have refused to be sent home when his physician had told him there was a possible chance for recovery in his home in the South. He said that he preferred to die and be buried in the North.

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