Great Migration

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Portrait of Man and Woman.jpg
Portrait of a man and woman with a moon and stars back drop from the Allfree Family Collection, ca. 1940-1949. The Allfree Family moved from Alabama to Cincinnati, Ohio around 1900.

The Great Migration began in the 1910s and continued through World War II in the 1940s. During this thirty year time period, hundreds of thousands of African Americans moved from the South to the North. In the South, most African Americans had few rights and opportunities. Many of these people worked as sharecroppers, tenant farmers, or as day laborers. With the beginning of World War I, a number of jobs opened in Northern industries. Many businesses increased production to meet wartime needs. Many white men joined the armed forces of the United States military and were sent to Europe to fight. While some African American men also enlisted in the armed forces, many others migrated to the North to fill these positions. Estimates vary, but possibly as many as 500,000 African Americans moved from the South to the North during the 1910s and the early 1920s.

Most African Americans who moved from the South to the North settled in cities, where the available jobs were located. Many Northern businesses advertised in Southern newspapers or sent recruiters to the South to hire African Americans. The businesses commonly offered to pay the workers' moving expenses as well as their first month's rent. Fewer people moved from the South to the North during the 1920s and the 1930s. But with the coming of World War II, there was another surge in the number of people moving from the South to the North.

Thousands of African Americans who participated in the Great Migration settled in Cleveland, Youngstown, Toledo, and Akron and other Ohio cities. In 1920, African Americans made up only three percent of Ohio's population. Their numbers increased dramatically to five percent of the population by 1930. The growing new population of Ohio dramatically altered the state. Most African Americans in Ohio lived in segregated communities. Also, cities experienced a tremendous building boom during the 1910s and 1920s. For example, in a study of housing in Akron completed in 1939, it was determined that sixty percent of the city's houses were constructed between 1914 and 1924 when the Great Migration was at its peak. Violent encounters between African Americans and whites occasionally occurred in Ohio and other Northern states as well. Despite the problems that African Americans faced in the North, the Great Migration did create new opportunity and hope.

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