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Black Arts and Culture

NJG Will Explore Black Migrations

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal Guide

In 1900, over 90 percent of the 8.8 million African-Americans who lived in the United States at the time, resided in 11 states in the southern region of the nation.

In fact, going back to 1790, when the first head count of the nation’s population was taken, nearly all of the nation’s Black population lived in the South.

But over time, that percentage dropped to 57 percent, according to the 2010 U.S. Census data.

In 1900 the states of Mississippi (58.5), South Carolina (58.4), Louisiana (47.1), Georgia (46.7), Alabama (45.7), Florida (43.7), Virginia (35.6), North Carolina (33), Arkansas (28.0), Tennessee (23.8) and Texas (20.4) had the highest percentage of African-American residents respectively.

At one point in the early 19th century, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina had majority Black populations which were mostly enslaved.

But starting in 1900, the first wave of the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to the industrial Midwest and East began.

Brutal racism exemplified by segregation, violence and economic deprivation forced over 5 million African-Americans from 1900 to 1970, specifically, to move from the mostly rural and agricultural South to the industrial North.

The outcome: African-Americans now make up 13.2 percent of the nation’s population and most of them (57.3 percent) still live In the South, according to the 2010 U.S. Census count.

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According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the states of the old Confederacy – Mississippi (37.0), Louisiana (32.0), Georgia (30.5), South Carolina (27.9), Alabama (26.2), Tennessee (16.7),

North Carolina (21.5), Virginia 19.4), Florida (16.6), Arkansas (15.4) and Texas (11.8) still have the highest percentages of Blacks living in their borders.

The Great Migration of African-Americans from the South has been called by historians and demographers one of the greatest movements of a single race of people from one region of a continent to another.

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASLAH), the offspring of Historian Carter G. Woodson, has chosen “Great Migrations” as the theme of 2019 Black History Month, which he fathered as well, during February.

Beginning this week and for the month of February, the GUIDE promises to provide stories which illustrate how and why the migration occurred.

We are seeking stories from our readers to illustrate the migration and its impact on their lives.


The ASLAH’s Great Migrations theme emphasizes the global movement of people of African descent to new destinations and subsequently to new social realities not only in the Americas but globally.

The Great Migration had two chapters. The first, (1916–1940) saw about 1.6 million-plus African-Americans move from mostly rural areas in the South to northern and southern and industrial cities.

The second chapter of the Great Migration took place from 1940–1970 when 5 million-plus people – including many townspeople with urban skills – moved North and West.

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Beginning in the early decades of the 20th century, African-American migration patterns included relocation from southern farms to southern cities; from the South to the Northeast, Midwest, and West; from the Caribbean to U.S. cities, as well as to migrant labor farms. There also was the emigration of noted African-Americans to Africa and to European cities, such as Paris and London, after the end of World War I and World War II.

Because of the presence of the huge military industrial complex in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, the Virginia Commonwealth was a destination of thousands of Black migrants to its borders from sister southern states.

According to the ASLAH, during the First and Second World Wars and between, Blacks found employment at installations in the military or with the civilian industrial complex in this region, other parts of the South and other states and cities.

An example of that grand shift in Black population to industrial centers occurred in Illinois which in 1900 had a 1.8 percent Black population, but today is 14.5 percent.

Another is the city of Detroit which had only a 1.4 percent Black population in 1900, and today, despite the outward migration of Blacks in recent years, was 75.7 percent Black in 2010.

In 1900 Blacks made up only 0.3 percent of the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin whose Black population today is 30.5 percent.

The migration resulted in a more diverse and stratified interracial and intra-racial urban population amid a changing social milieu, such as the rise of the Garvey movement in Hampton Roads (then Tidewater), Richmond, New York, Detroit, and New Orleans.

As Black industrial workers and Black entrepreneurs emerged in these urban centers, also came a growing number and variety of urban churches and new religions; new music forms like ragtime, blues, and jazz.

But despite the cultural economic uplift, according to the ASLAH, changes occurred with Jim Crow and racial tensions in the background, as the lynching of Black people was a motive for Blacks migrating from rural southern communities.

Black workers had to compete with white native residents and European migrants in urban centers for employment, contend with racial segregation and brutality and inequality akin to what they sought to escape in the South.

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A good example is what transpired between white and Black veterans of WWI which spawned the Red Summer and autumn of 1919.

Hundreds of deaths and casualties across the United States occurred due to race riots in three dozen cities, such as Chicago and Washington, D.C. and in rural Elaine, Arkansas, where over 200 Black people were killed in clashes with whites.

The ASLAH theme lends itself to the exploration of social perspectives, with attention to “new” African-Americans because of the burgeoning African and Caribbean populations in the U.S.; the return to the South of African-Americans from the North; racial suburbanization; inner-city hyper ghettoization; health and environment; civil rights and protest activism; electoral politics; mass incarceration; and dynamic cultural production.

Today, mid-Atlantic and southeastern states, such as Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia have become industrialized and are producing jobs and other economic opportunities for the generation of millennial Blacks to secure.

The destruction of legal segregation and Jim Crow over the past four decades has contributed to reverse migration of many working and retiring Blacks to the South and other regions from the North.

Publisher’s Note: If you have a story to tell around the migration theme, please call Leonard Colvin at (757) 543-7220 or email to

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