Go to the Digital Library top page!

Social Studies

Click here to go to Great Migration introduction

Lecture Menu > The Great Migration

16. Finding Some Answers in the Letters

[Female voice] __________

Quite possibly, people wrote them themselves. One of the other interesting things though about these letters, and you could really play with these letters, you could do a lot of things with these letters and they raise a lot of questions that's why I was curious as to what questions you have.

One sociologist for example has said, "Aha, I'm going to take these letters and I'm going to prove that all of these people who said that this was a migration of people from the rural south to the urban north were wrong," and can anyone guess how she did that?

[Male voice] From the postmark.

Not postmark, well it's not the postmark, that's the thing, it's the date mark, it's the date mark where it says, Florence, Alabama, July 12th, 1917. And sure enough she found that most of these datelines were from either medium sized towns or cities.

[Female voice] That's, that's a, I mean in the Puritan Migration it's also the case that people often made their first move from the rural area to local cities, ________.

No, I was about to ask, what would make you doubt this conclusion. That's the first one, you said people often made their first move, Richard Wright for example, moved from a small town in Mississippi to Memphis and then from Memphis to Chicago. So many people make their first move, especially to Hattiesburg, in fact we know that in certain parts of the city make it to Hattiesburg. We know that the population of Hattiesburg actually increased over a certain period.

So what else by the way would make you doubt that conclusion that's based on the date marks? Anything that you know about the black South in the early twentieth century?

[Female voice] Could you restate the conclusion again?

Anything that you know about the black South in the early twentieth century, oh her conclusion was that people came from cities and large towns based on the places that were the datelines in these letters.

[Female voice] They didn't have names; sometimes they would just be named after the store, like the general store. Like, my father was from Kelly Store.


[Female voice] So they would have to use the, the name of the largest nearby.

A lot of people, for two reasons. One is where they're from might not have a name; second is status. Why are these people writing? They're writing because they are trying to get a job. So if you're writing because you are trying to get a job and you are from East Nowhere, Alabama, one of the ways in which you try to make yourself sound a little more impressive is that you use the name of the largest town nearby. Say, "I'm not from East Nowhere, I'm from Florence; I know about life in the city, I'm not, I am not a hick." [Laughter] So, part of it is the question of what people chose to use. And we know that if, if these place names came from, if they were placed on the printed ones instead of taken off of a letter; is if they were used from the postmark on the envelope we also know that people would have gone to the nearest town, where they would have gone most Saturdays for market purposes; and that's where they would have mailed the letter. So again it's a way of thinking about well how can you read these letters, how do you use these letters, what do they tell you, what do they not tell you.

«previous 16 of 30 next »

Need help searching?
Search help

Search eCUIP:

Examples: or
Contact eCUIP!

Need help?

Return to the eCUIP top page!