Collection: A Century of Black Migration

A Transplantation to the North – Black Migration

Just after the settlement of the question of holding the western posts by the British and the adjustment of the trouble arising from their capture of slaves during our second war with England, there started a movement of the blacks to this frontier territory. But, as there were few towns or cities in the Northwest during the first decades of the new republic, the flight of the Negro into that territory was like that of a fugitive taking his chances in the wilderness. Having lost their pioneering spirit in passing through the ordeal of slavery, not many of the bondmen took flight in that direction and few free Negroes ventured to seek their fortunes in those wilds during the period of the frontier conditions, especially when the country had not then undergone a thorough reaction against the Negro. The migration of the Negroes, however, received an impetus early in the nineteenth century. This came from the Quakers, who by the middle of the eighteenth century had taken the position that all members of their sect should free their slaves. 1“Moore, Anti-Slavery”, p. 79; and “, 1871, p. 376; Weeks, Southern Quakers, pp. 215, 216, 231, 230, 242. The Quakers of North Carolina and Virginia had as early as 1740 taken up the serious question of humanely treating their Negroes. The North Carolina Quakers advised Friends to emancipate their slaves,...

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Fighting it out on Free Soil – Black Migration

How, then, was this increasing influx of refugees from the South to be received in the free States? In the older Northern States where there could be no danger of an Africanization of a large district, the coming of the Negroes did not cause general excitement, though at times the feeling in certain localities was sufficient to make one think so. 1“The New York Daily Advertiser,” Sept. 22, 1800; “The New York Journal of Commerce,” July 12, 1834; and “The New York Commercial Advertiser,” July 12, 1834. Fearing that the immigration of the Negroes into the North might so increase their numbers as to make them constitute a rather important part in the community, however, some free States enacted laws to restrict the privileges of the blacks. Free Negroes had voted in all the colonies except Georgia and South Carolina, if they had the property qualification; but after the sentiment attendant upon the struggle for the rights of man had passed away there set in a reaction. 2Hart, “Slavery and Abolition,” pp. 53, 82. Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky disfranchised all Negroes not long after the Revolution. They voted in North Carolina until 1835, when the State, feeling that this privilege of one class of Negroes might affect the enslavement of the other, prohibited it. The Northern States, following in their wake, set up the same barriers against the...

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Colonization as a Remedy for Migration

Because of these untoward circumstances consequent to the immigration of free Negroes and fugitives into the North, their enemies, and in some cases their well intentioned friends, advocated the diversion of these elements to foreign soil. Benezet and Brannagan had the idea of settling the Negroes on the public lands in the West largely to relieve the situation in the North. 1“The African Repository”, XVI, p. 22. Certain anti-slavery men of Kentucky, as we have observed, recommended the same. But this was hardly advocated at all by the farseeing white men after the close of the first quarter of the nineteenth century. It was by that time very clear that white men would want to occupy all lands within the present limits of the United States. Few statesmen dared to encourage migration to Canada because the large number of fugitives who had already escaped there had attached to that region the stigma of being an asylum for fugitives from the slave States. The most influential people who gave thought to this question finally decided that the colonization of the Negro in Africa was the only solution of the problem. The plan of African colonization appealed more generally to the people of both North and South than the other efforts, which, at best, could do no more than to offer local or temporary relief. The African colonizationists proceeded on the...

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Confusing Movements – Black Migration

The Civil War waged largely in the South started the most exciting movement of the Negroes hitherto known. The invading Union forces drove the masters before them, leaving the slaves and sometimes poor whites to escape where they would or to remain in helpless condition to constitute a problem for the northern army. 1This is well treated in John Eaton’s “Grant, Lincoln and the Freedmen”. See also Coffin’s “Boys of ’61”. Many poor whites of the border States went with the Confederacy, not always because they wanted to enter the war, but to choose what they considered the lesser of two evils. The slaves soon realized a community of interests with the Union forces sent, as they thought, to deliver them from thralldom. At first, it was difficult to determine a fixed policy for dealing with these fugitives. To drive them away was an easy matter, but this did not solve the problem. General Butler’s action at Fortress Monroe in 1861, however, anticipated the policy finally adopted by the Union forces. 2Williams, “History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion”, p. 70. Hearing that three fugitive slaves who were received into his lines were to have been employed in building fortifications for the Confederate army, he declared them seized as contraband of war rather than declare them actually free as did General Fremont 3Greely, “American Conflict”,...

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The Exodus to the West

Having come through the halcyon days of the Reconstruction only to find themselves reduced almost to the status of slaves, many Negroes deserted the South for the promising west to grow up with the country. The immediate causes were doubtless political. “Bulldozing”, a rather vague term, covering all such crimes as political injustice and persecution, was the source of most complaint. The abridgment of the Negroes’ rights had affected them as a great calamity. They had learned that voting is one of the highest privileges to be obtained in this life and they wanted to go where they might still exercise that privilege. That persecution was the main cause was disputed, however, as there were cases of Negroes migrating from parts where no such conditions obtained. Yet some of the whites giving their version of the situation admitted that violent methods had been used so to intimidate the Negroes as to compel them to vote according to the dictation of the whites. It was also learned that the “bulldozers” concerned in dethroning the non-taxpaying blacks were an impecunious and irresponsible group themselves, led by men of the wealthy class. 1“Atlantic Monthly”, LXIV, p. 222; “Nation”, XXVIII, pp. 242, 386. Coming to the defense of the whites, some said that much of the persecution with which the blacks were afflicted was due to the fear of Negro uprisings, the terror...

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The Successful Migrant

The reader will naturally be interested in learning exactly what these thousands of Negroes did on free soil. To estimate these achievements the casual reader of contemporary testimony would now, as such persons did then, find it decidedly easy. He would say that in spite of the unfailing aid which philanthropists gave the blacks, they seldom kept themselves above want and, therefore, became a public charge, afflicting their communities with so much poverty, disease and crime that they were considered the lepers of society. The student of history, however, must look beyond these comments for the whole truth. One must take into consideration the fact that in most cases these Negroes escaped as fugitives without sufficient food and clothing to comfort them until they could reach free soil, lacking the small fund with which the pioneer usually provided himself in going to establish a home in the wilderness, and lacking, above all, initiative of which slavery had deprived them. Furthermore, these refugees with few exceptions had to go to places where they were not wanted and in some cases to points from which they were driven as undesirables, although preparation for their coming had sometimes gone to the extent of purchasing homes and making provision for employment upon arrival. 1“Cincinnati Morning Herald”, July 17, 1846. Several well-established Negro settlements in the North, moreover, were broken up by the slave...

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The Migration of the Talented Tenth

In spite of these interstate movements, the Negro still continued as a perplexing problem, for the country was unprepared to grant the race political and civil rights. Nominal equality was forced on the South at the point of the sword and the North reluctantly removed most of its barriers against the blacks. Some, still thinking, however, that the two races could not live together as equals, advocated ceding the blacks the region on the Gulf of Mexico. 1Pike, “The Prostrate State”, pp. 3, 4. This was branded as chimerical on the ground that, deprived of the guidance of the whites, these States would soon sink to African level and the end of the experiment would be a reconquest and a military regime fatal to the true development of American institutions. 2“Spectator”, LXVI, p. 113. Another plan proposed was the revival of the old colonization idea of sending Negroes to Africa, but this exhibited still less wisdom than the first in that it was based on the hypothesis of deporting a nation, an expense which no government would be willing to incur. There were then no physical means of transporting six or seven millions of people, moreover, as there would be a new born for every one the agents of colonization could deport. 3Frederick Douglass pointed out this difficulty prior to the Civil War. See John Lobb’s “Life and Times...

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The Exodus During the World War

Within the last two years there has been a steady stream of Negroes into the North in such large numbers as to overshadow in its results all other movements of the kind in the United States. These Negroes have come largely from Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi. The given causes of this migration are numerous and complicated. Some untruths centering around this exodus have not been unlike those of other migrations. Again we hear that the Negroes are being brought North to fight organized labor, 1“New York Times”, Sept. 5, 9, 28, 1916. and to carry doubtful States for the Republicans. 2“Ibid”., Oct. 18, 28; Nov. 5, 7, 12, 15; Dec. 4, 9, 1916. These numerous explanations themselves, however, give rise to doubt as to the fundamental cause. Why then should the Negroes leave the South? It has often been spoken of as the best place for them. There, it is said, they have made unusual strides forward. The progress of the Negroes in the South, however, has in no sense been general, although the land owned by Negroes in the country and the property of thrifty persons of their race in urban communities may be extensive. In most parts of the South the Negroes are still unable to become landowners or successful business men. Conditions and customs have reserved these...

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Finding a Place of Refuge

The migration of the blacks from the Southern States to those offering them better opportunities is nothing new. The objective here, therefore, will be not merely to present the causes and results of the recent movement of the Negroes to the North but to connect this event with the periodical movements of the blacks to that section, from about the year 1815 to the present day. That this movement should date from that period indicates that the policy of the commonwealths towards the Negro must have then begun decidedly to differ so as to make one section of the country more congenial to the despised blacks than the other. As a matter of fact, to justify this conclusion, we need but give passing mention here to developments too well known to be discussed in detail. Slavery in the original thirteen States was the normal condition of the Negroes. When, however, James Otis, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson began to discuss the natural rights of the colonists, then said to be oppressed by Great Britain, some of the patriots of the Revolution carried their reasoning to its logical conclusion, contending that the Negro slaves should be freed on the same grounds, as their rights were also founded in the laws of nature. 1Locke, Anti-Slavery, pp. 19, 20, 23; Works of John Woolman, pp. 58, 73; and Moore, Notes on Slavery...

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A Century of Black Migration

A century of Black migration (or the Great Migration) details how Blacks in the United States have struggled under adverse circumstances to flee from the bondage of the South in quest of lands offering Freedom and opportunity.

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