The Great Migration

Created by: Khalia Delancy
Time Period: 20th Century, Postwar, WWII
Topic: Culture, Immigration, Race and Ethnicity

The Great Migration, also called the Black Migration, extended from 1916 to 1970. It consisted of about six million African Americans coming from the south-east, south-west and south-central portion of the United States and flooding into northern states including states in the northwest. An overwhelming number of these people chose to pick up and relocate from Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee up to the bustling city of Chicago. This Migration happened in “waves” and are categorized by time period.

Map of the Illinois Central Railroad Links to Chicago

The first wave of the black exodus began in 1916, right after World War I began and tapered off during the great depression in the 1930s. This initial wave of migrants is the focal point of the migration and is typically what most people are referring to when thinking about the great migration. The second wave of migrants into the north ushered in with the steep increase in industrial demand created by the Second World War. The black migration finally ended in the 1970s resulting in over half of the nation’s African American population residing in the northern half of the country.

Chicago in particular, felt a considerable amount of the impact from this migration as it experienced a sharp increase in its population of African Americans within the first ten years of the initial wave of black migrants. The city’s population of blacks boomed upwards of 148 percent from its initial numbers in 1910 to 1920. This explosion in growth contributed to drastic changes in many aspects of American life – even becoming the catalyst of the Harlem Renaissance and spurring the beginnings of the newfound, closely-knit black community.

An African-American migrant family.

Ultimately, the great migration held new, promising economic opportunities for blacks as well as the chance to flee persecution from the south. However, the migration was also a genesis of a never before chance to claim political power and birthed a long-awaited community of people that collaborated by means of their shared history of tribulation.








  1. Black, Timuel D. Bridges of Memory: Chicago’s First Wave of Black Migration. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2003.
  2. Isenberg, Alison. Downtown America: A History of the Place and the People Who Made It. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
  3. Satter, Beryl. Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009.
  4. Sugrue, Thomas J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2014.
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