19. The Second
So, one of the things that we begin to realize is once we try
to see this as a story about people, is that the first thing
have to ask is who are these people and how are they making these
kinds of decisions. Now, what that gets us to very quickly is
sort of the meaning of migration to people. And Robert Abbott,
who was the editor of The Chicago Defender, which again in answer
to one of your questions earlier, certainly is the most influential
black newspaper during this period, Abbott labeled the movement
the Second Emancipation. In fact even before you see Great Migration
another term you see is the Second Emancipation. Well, if you're
going to understand the Great Migration in terms of how people
saw it at the time--Robert Abbott is a pretty smart man and he
certainly was in touch with black southerners, people who were
moving--what does it mean that he's calling it a Second Emancipation.
Well, it probably means that you gotta figure out what the inheritance
of the First Emancipation is, if this is part of that longer process.
Well, evidence suggests that freed people, upon emancipation,
one of the most important things was that they insisted on their
as what, one minister called part and parcel of the American
Republic. Citizenship was crucial and like other Americans they
land ownership essential to that status, to the status of being
a citizen of the Republic.
But unlike other Americans they weren't supposed to share anything.
Those of you who have read All God's Dangers, which is an oral
history of a sharecropper, might recall that that Ned Cobb, the
main character, later explained how whites reacted to his attempt
to climb the ladder in the South, what's called the agricultural
ladder. From sharecropper to tenant farmer to landowner and
a landowner really when you become a full citizen.
"Whenever the colored man prospered too fast in this country,
under the old rulings, they worked every figure to cut you down,
to cut your briches off you". So "after years of hard
observed one black, religious journal in 1917, black
were coming to realize that "neither character, the accumulation
of property, the fostering of the church, the schools and a
and higher standard of the home, had brought either respect or
the chance for mobility." In modern terms, even acting like
minority didn't seem to make any difference in the South.
But what was interesting was that when you read black, southern
newspapers in this period; and when you read some of these letters
written by migrants, you get a sense that maybe black southerners
did not translate this into a notion that the system doesn't work;
they didn't translate this into an argument that, well, agricultural
capitalism doesn't work; they translated it into a notion, into
the idea that it doesn't work for us. Because to most black southerners
it looked like whites could make it in the South.