African-American History Between 1914 and 1929 Term Paper

Pages: 9 (2506 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Black Studies

African-American History

Between 1914 and 1929, approximately one million African-American individuals moved from the rural south to the more industrial north in a mass exodus known as the Great Migration. This movement was caused by a number of economic, environmental, and social forces that together made life in the northern states far more attractive to the African-American population. This paper will discuss those forces, and how they interacted to help create one of the largest migrations in U.S. history.

First, the southern states had implemented Jim Crow laws, along with numerous other forms of segregation. These laws prohibited African-Americans from voting, marrying, traveling, eating in certain areas, drinking from "white only" water fountains, and many other common everyday tasks. Further, the persecution of African-Americans in the south often ended in lynching. Between 1890 and 1920, thousands of African-Americans were killed both to enforce the Jim Crow laws, as well as to place fear into African-American residents of the south. As a result, many African-Americans began seeking a better life in the north, where segregation was minimal, and more opportunities for education and employment existed (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2002).

In 1914, African-Americans in the south received a break in terms of employment opportunities when World War I broke out. The war created a huge demand in the factories of the north for unskilled laborers, primarily due to the number of white males recruited to join the armed forces. Further, the war limited the number of immigrants from Europe, further diminishing the unskilled labor force of the north. As a result, the African-Americans looking to escape the racism of the south now had not only motivation to move north, but the promise of employment upon arrival in the north (EBC, 2002).

The situation in the north became such a crisis, the railroad companies, desperate for laborers, began paying African-Americans to move, as well as paying for their travel expenses. Northern labor agents were highly successful when they traveled to the south to encourage African-Americans to find jobs in the north. As a result, thousands of African-American families began to migrate (EBC, 2002).

Simultaneously, the economic situation in the south had become highly unstable. Boll weevil infestations in southern plantations ruined harvests and threatened thousands of African-Americans with starvation and unemployment. Sharecroppers were at risk for losing their homes, as well. In Georgia alone, cotton production dropped from 2.8 million bales in 1914 to only 600,000 by 1924 (BRC, 2003).

Clearly, the southern agricultural situation and economic circumstances were prime for a migration of workers to areas where employment was high, and not dependant upon agricultural aspects. The southern planters, however, were unprepared to let the African-American workers go, and attempted in numerous ways to keep them. More progressive southern employers attempted to solve the migration by offering higher wagers, better treatment, and higher standards of living. On the other hand, less progressive employers attempted to intimidate African-Americans headed north by threatening their families, and even attempted to board trains headed north to attack African-Americans (EBC, 2002).

The situation again turned sour in the south with the great Mississippi flood of 1927. In March and April of 1927, plantation owners began to force African-American farm hands to raise the levees in the south, due to very high levels of rainfall. Police began to round up more African-Americans at gunpoint and forced to work to save the levees. Despite the forced effort, however, by April 16th, the Mississippi river broke through the levee near Cairo, Illinois, and 175,000 acres of farmland flooded. In some areas, the river carried 3 million cubic feet of water per second. By late summer, nearly fifty percent of the African-American population in the Delta had migrated from the area to the north (PBS, 2000).

Finally, the migration its self was another cause of continued migration to the north. As African-Americans who had already moved north communicated their improved conditions to their family and friends in the south, those still in the south saw the opportunity. Whereas the north had previously been an unknown, the improved conditions were now well-known. Further, black women in the north found themselves also in positions for higher wages in domestic positions, with a higher level of personal autonomy (Lemann, 1991).

It is easy to see how these forces worked together to create the great migration. The racism in the south caused the African-American population to dream of a better life. The start of World War I, which caused a decrease in immigrant labor and thus, and increased need for unskilled laborers, created opportunity for the African-Americans to find that better life. With northern employers willing to pay traveling costs, moving was possible. Finally, with economic opportunity dwindling in southern agricultural areas, the situation was perfect for African-Americans to move north.

In the beginning of the 1900's, an unprecedented outburst of creative activity among African-Americans occurred in New York, particularly in the Harlem area. This paper will discuss the characteristics of the "New Negro" movement, the UNIA, the Harlem Renaissance, and Marcus Garvey, as well as discuss the relationship between these areas and why they were centralized in the New York area. Finally, this paper will discuss why they appeared simultaneously.

The "New Negro" movement began with a series of literary discussions in Greenwich Village and Harlem., but the term was in use far before the Harlem Renaissance. By 1916, the term "New Negro" was being used in books, newspapers, and other forms of literature and art. The "New Negro" movement was thought to stand for the men and women of middle-class upbringing who demanded their rights as citizens and as equals. By 1917, Huber Harrison founded the "New Negro Movement" by founding the Liberty League and the Voice newspaper. The movement, centered in Harlem, was founded in race and class consciousness, as well as demands for political quality, an end to segregation, a halt of lynching and justice for those already killed, and a call for African-Americans to arm themselves. Thus, the "New Negro" was seen to be confident, educated, assertive, well-employed, and highly influential in art and culture (Alkalimat, 2003).

A large supporter of the "New Negro" movement was Marcus Garvey. Born in Jamaica in 1887, Garvey grew up knowing the horrible living conditions of the laboring class of African-Americans all over the world. Garvey quickly became involved in social reform by participating in union strikes as well as through setting up the Watchman newspaper. To raise money for his projects, Garvey traveled to Central and South America, and gathered further proof that African-Americans were victims of discrimination throughout the world (Mattson and Asante, 1998).

By 1914, Garvey had founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association, or UNIA. The first convention was held in Harlem in 1920, and 25,000 individuals gathered to hear Garvey's plan for an African nation state. This state, according to Garvey, would be in the native homeland of Africa, where African-Americans could be proud of their race, and a united people, free from discrimination. In 1919, he founded the Black Star Line to provide steamship transportation to Africa, and also the Negro Factories Corporation, dedicated to encouraging blacks to gain economic independence. His group quickly gathered thousands of supporters, and millions of members for the UNIA (Mattson and Asante, 1998).

The UNIA was, according to the preamble:

social, friendly, humanitarian, charitable, educational, institutional, constructive and expansive society, and is founded by persons desiring to the utmost to work for the general uplift of the people of African ancestry of the world."

The members of the society were bound to conserve the rights of African-Americans and to respect the rights of all other races and nationalities. The primary goal of the society was to make other African-Americans realize the power of their numbers. According to the UNIA, if the strong opposes the weak, confusion and discontent prevail and peace is not possible. However, with equality, all individuals are able to live in harmony (UNIA, 2007).

Because of Garvey's Harlem conference, the UNIA gained high popularity it New York. Millions of members joined within a few years, and the society soared. New York became a haven of new concepts of race equality and class concepts. As the image of the "New Negro" merged with the ideas of Garvey, and of the UNIA, the African-American area of Harlem became a vital contributor to arts, literature, and culture.

In such a thriving, vibrant culture, a surge of intellectual, social, and cultural concepts began to emerge, becoming what was known as the Harlem Renaissance. Across the cultural gamut, including literature, drama, music, visual arts, dance, and poetry, African-Americans began to thrive. Further, the realm of social thought, such as in areas of sociology, historiography, philosophy, and psychology, became enriched with the viewpoints of African-Americans. These new thinkers began to explore the history of African-Americans and the modern experiences of blacks in the north. They, along with the members of the UNIA, followers of Garvey, and the "New Negro," began to challenge white paternalism and racism, while… [END OF PREVIEW]

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