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African Americans in Harlem fresh from migration
Map of Great Migration

The Great Migration which began in 1916 involved the mass exodus of African-Americans from the farms of the South to the industrial cities of the North. From 1916 to 1918, over 400,000 African-Americans migrated from the south, or on average sixteen thousand per month and five hundred per day.
Typical of any migration movement, there were push and pull factors triggering the Great Migration. The economic push and pull factors involved the devastation of crops in the South and the growing demand for labor in the North.

There were many push factors involved. A tiny insect called the boll weevil swept across the South, destroying their main crop, cotton, while displacing thousands of farm laborers. Between 1890 and 1910, the political push factor involved the institution of Jim Crow laws which, among other things, disenfranchised the African-American community with laws that prevented them from voting through the installation of property requirements, literacy tests, poll taxes, and the “grandfather clause.” In addition, they had to live with the daily fear of being lynched in the South; at least two people were lynched every week.

There were also many pull factors involved. The shortage of labor in the North was caused by the First World War which generated a greater demand for labor and also diminished the supply of laborers in the North. Industries in the North needed workers to produce materials for war. The influx of European immigrants was halted by the war; by 1918, there were almost as many Europeans leaving the United States as entering.

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