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
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
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
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
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
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
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.