After the Civil War, African American slaves were set free, but life didn’t get much better for them. In the South and in other parts of the country, they were the targets of racism. They were sometimes kidnapped and even killed. But World War I changed things for them.
- During World War I, American factories provided weapons and ammunition to the European fighters. European immigrants often worked in these factories. But the U.S. stopped letting immigrants come in. The factories couldn’t get enough workers.
- Finally, the factory owners said that women and African Americans could work for them. Newspaper articles talked about how black people could start new lives with better jobs in the North.
- African Americans left their homes in the South and traveled north. But then, the people in the South realized that would be a bad thing. Who would work in the fields or clean houses?
- Southern police officers stopped people trying to get on trains. The train clerks refused to sell them tickets.
- But the people kept traveling north. Some traveled by train or mule. Some even walked.
- When the trains crossed the Mason-Dixon line, the black people on the train cheered and sang. They knew they could sit wherever they wanted to on the train going forward. The Jim Crow laws that made them sit at the front of the train weren’t valid in the North.
- These people moved into neighborhoods in places like Chicago, Detroit, and Harlem, New York. They brought their stories, blues music, and southern cooking with them.
- African Americans were full of hope for their future. They discovered that life wasn’t easy, though. They were only allowed to live in one part of town and they still had a hard time finding jobs. When they did get jobs, the factory owners wanted to pay them less than other workers were paid. White workers were mad because they needed the jobs and wanted to get paid fairly too.
- Still, the time during World War I helped many black Americans by getting them independent jobs out of the South. What started as a small trickle of people became a massive event. More than 6 million African Americans left the South.
Read more about the legacy of the Great Migration.