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7. Dating the Beginning of the Great Migration

One of the things that's also very interesting is that unlike most social changes of this kind of magnitude it can be located chronologically with considerable specificity. Even though you'll often see something like 1910 to 1960, or something like that, it's a reminder for anybody studying history that you should always be suspicious anytime someone gives you a historical period where either of the years ends in a zero. [laughter] Usually the only thing significant about that date is that they took a census that year. Often people will give a period, will create a period that really is not what historians call a period. There's not actually, there's not a beginning date and an ending date that really mattered.

The Great Migration started in 1916; it's very odd that you can pinpoint it in that way. And even though the United States doesn't enter World War I until the following year, what's happening in 1916 by the summer, the fall of 1916, is that you are getting increasing orders, production orders coming from Europe, from the people who are fighting, for all kinds of things that are very hard to produce in large enough numbers when you're fighting a war. And remember, we're still taking stuff across the ocean, and the American entrance into the war has to do with an American ship getting fired upon by a German sub.

And the other thing is that by 1916, as opposed to 1914, by 1916 most Americans now expect that the United States is going to get drawn into this. Which means that American factories, American factory owners are scratching their heads and realizing that it's time to start producing things that sell during wartime. And so you get a gearing up of the American industry.

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