Migrants in Chicago

Map of Chicago's South Side
Map of Chicago's South Side

  Migrants from the South came to Chicago and other Northern cities because opportunities which could never be had in the rural south. Most migrants who traveled North, left the land and the farms to find a better life in the urban settings. On arrival in Chicago, the migrants did not find the North as welcoming as they had hoped. The North had jobs but they were often poorly paying jobs.

In Chicago, the migrants also faced opposition from the older black settlers. Neither blacks nor whites wanted the migrants to move to Chicago. Until World War I, northern employers were unwilling to hire African American workers because of the great influx of immigrants from Europe. The U.S. tightened its policy on immigration, so white employers were forced to open to African Americans.

The labor shortage in the north, during the war, prompted the first southern migration. The Delta Central Railroad became a primary means of migration for the migrants. They traveled in families and as individuals to the north,where upon their arrival they were faced with a very different life from the one they had left.

The Chicago Defender encouraged migrants to come north. But other old settlers who had adapted to the culture and the ways of Chicago and had been accepted by the white community felt threatened by the poor and uneducated southern migrants. Old settlers considered migrants dirty and ignorant. The old settlers were wary that whites would stereotype all blacks as inferior. The old settlers believed the migrants would destroy their previous efforts. With the arrival of the migrants from the south, many old settlers of Chicago discriminated against migrants to protect themselves. This type of discrimination in Chicago was new to the African Americans from the South. In the South all African Americans were oppressed and there was a sense of community among the African American population. Whites in Chicago were even more hostile, at times violent, towards the newly arrived migrants.

As the migrants arrived in Chicago they exited the train on the South Side. The South Side of Chicago was a predominately African American community, though a large Irish population lived in the center of it. The South Side, also referred to as the Black Belt, stretched along State Street for approximately thirty blocks but was only and only a few blocks wide. As the population grew, the South Side, remained approximately the same. Whites did everything in their power to keep the blacks out of their neighborhoods because they were afraid the black neighbors would destroy property value.  

Photo of Chicago Apartments
Chiacgo Apartments

Photo of migrant family in Chicago apartment
Migrant Family in Chicago Apartment

  Chicago and other northern cities did not turn out to be the lands of promise that the migrants had hoped. Still, the conditions in the North were better than they were in the South. From 1910, the population in Chicago skyrocketed from 44,103 people to 109,458 people in 1920. The vast majority of this coming between 1916 and 1919. Over 50,000 African Americans migrated to Chicago during those three years and thousands more passed through on their migration to other Northern cities to start their new lives. Most African AMericans stayed in the North but some migrants still returned back to the Delta of Mississippi.

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