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11. Some Causes of the Great Migration

Now, as an explanation of why the Great Migration happened, World War I, the industry, jobs… This is not rocket science, this is actually pretty straightforward and most of this is covered I think in the piece that you had sent to you beforehand for those of you who were…. But actually, surprisingly enough, figuring all of this out generated a lot of ink for a lot of years. It started a lot of arguments and it might even have gotten sociologists tenure back in the 1930s or 40s.

From the 1920s really through the end of the twentieth century, social scientists had tried to figure out why the Great Migration happened by generating these huge lists of pushes and pulls. The one that's kind of interesting was when I asked you the questions about the documents, none of you said, well one question is what are the questions that asked how would you make lists of things that pushed people out of the South, how would you make lists of the things that pulled people out of the North. But that's how people tried to figure out the Great Migration. You could even see it, there are some studies, especially done in the twenties and thirties, where they'll have "pulls" and then they'll list these "pushes." Actually I guess it was the other way around, and that wasn't that hard.

Higher wages set alongside a long list of racial issues from lynching, other forms of violence, disenfranchisement, segregation, the indignities of daily life in the world of Jim Crow. Then there's natural disasters, the boll weevils, flood, drought, and it's like a ledger, these are the things that are bad, these are the things that are good, and you could do this from the letters. And I think it's a very easy, that it's a very easy exercise, and I think it's a very good exercise for students, especially if you can do it comparatively; if you have two or three sets of letters and say, OK, what are the pushes for this group, what are the pulls for this group and then you could move on from there but at least you could get something on the table. I don't think it explains the process of migration, but it helps you to understand what some of the differences were in terms of what people are bringing to this process.

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