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MLA Full: "The Great Migration: Crash Course Black American History #24." YouTube, uploaded by CrashCourse, 6 November 2021,
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APA Full: CrashCourse. (2021, November 6). The Great Migration: Crash Course Black American History #24 [Video]. YouTube.
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Chicago Full: CrashCourse, "The Great Migration: Crash Course Black American History #24.", November 6, 2021, YouTube, 12:40,
In 1910, 90% of Black Americans lived in the South. By 1940, around 1.5 million Black Americans had left their homes, and 77% lived in the South. By 1970, 52% of Black Americans remained in the South. People moved away for many reasons, including increased opportunity in the more industrial North and West. They sought a relatively safer life away from the lynchings and violence that were concentrated in the South. This Great Migration shaped 20th-century America in countless ways, but we're going to try to count some of them in this video.

Clint's book, How the Word is Passed is available now!

Davarian Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Urban Black Life (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).
Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (New York: Random House, 2010).
The Origins of Southern Sharecropping, Edward Royce, 1993

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Hi I’m Clint Smith, this is Crash Course  Black American History and today we’re   talking about the Great Migration.

You know sometimes, moving is exciting.   Maybe an exciting job opportunity pulls you to a  brand new city and so you get to move someplace   you've never been. Or you go from being a college  student to a working adult and get to move into   the apartment of your dreams… or if you were like  me, one that you shared with seven other people.   Shout out to your early twenties.

But sometimes, people don’t leave a   place simply because they want to, but because,  in one way or another, they’ve been pushed away.   In what would become known as The Great Migration  which took place in the early to mid-twentieth   century, many Black Americans who lived in the  South, moved to the northern United States,   to the urban South, and to the West. They did  this to find better jobs, more economic mobility,   and to escape the ever-present threat  of violence in the South.   Let's start the show. INTRO   I want to note up top that this episode  will address some challenging topics   like extreme violence.

During the Great Migration large   numbers of Black Americans left the Jim Crow South  in two waves, one from around 1910 through 1940,   and another from 1940 to 1970. It was one of the  largest domestic migrations in American history.   You see, in 1910 most Black Americans lived  in the South - 90% in fact. And this makes   a lot of sense because most of slavery  had been centered in the South.   And even after the emancipation  of enslaved Black Americans,   many folks stayed in the same areas  where they had previously lived.   But by 1940 around 1.5 million Black Americans  had left their homes, and that percentage of Black   Americans in the South had dropped to 77%.

And by 1970, that number would drop to 52%.   They mostly went to cities like Chicago, Illinois,  Detroit, Michigan, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania,   and New York City. In my own family, we  had a lot of people leave New Orleans,   and actually move out to the West Coast,  settling in and around Los Angeles.   In the early 1900s, Black Americans  were being both pushed out of the South,   and also pulled toward the North. As for why they  were pushed away from the

South: after slavery,   many Black Americans were subjected to  a physically taxing and economically   precarious system called sharecropping. To learn more about how unfair this system was,   let's go to the Thought Bubble. So let's say there’s a farmer, we’ll   call him Farmer Joe. Maybe Farmer Joe, or his dad  or granddad before him, had a plantation where he   had enslaved workers who tended to the land.

After  the war was over, because of the 13th amendment,   Farmer Joe could no longer enslave those workers,  so he had to find a different arrangement in order   to plant and harvest the crops on that land.  This arrangement was known as sharecropping.   The way it worked was like this:  Farmer Joe brought in some help.   They might be formerly enslaved people, or  the descendants of formerly enslaved people,   or poor whites. He provided these workers with  land, cabins, seeds, animals, and the tools   needed to work on the farm from the beginning  of the season through harvest time. All of these   things were provided to the workers on credit.

By the end of the harvest season, Farmer Joe had   a certain expectation of how many crops he would  receive, and if that expectation wasn’t met,   he could claim that the workers were now even  further indebted to him than they were before.   And because of high interest rates, unpredictable  harvest seasons, and deceptive agreements by the   landowners, many sharecroppers found  themselves in a cycle of endless debt   that was difficult, if not impossible, to escape. There were even laws in place that prevented   sharecroppers from leaving the land if they  were in debt to the landowner, and Farmer Joe   could even send his workers to jail for these  debts - which would go on to shape the racialized   prison industrial complex. Thanks, Thought Bubble.   Even when Black Americans owned their land,  factors like unpredictable weather and pests   like the boll weevil made farming less and  less sustainable and also less profitable.   Because so many Black Americans in the South were  earning next to nothing because of this cyclical   debt, the idea of finding more stable work in  the north became increasingly appealing.   Stories from those who had made their way to  these other cities trickled back down South.   Jobs in the north, the story went, created  by the auto industry, meatpacking industry,   and steel & iron industry, were paying  Black people a lot more money.   Black men that were earning only  $0.75 a day while working in the South   could make up to $5 a day working in the North.  And for many, it seemed too good to pass up.   Another huge reason for the Great Migration was  the impact of Jim Crow and domestic terrorism   by groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

Even though the Reconstruction Amendments promised   Black Americans freedom from slavery, the right  to vote (for men at least), and full citizenship   with all of the benefits it was supposed to carry,  many White Americans weren’t okay with that. They   showed their displeasure with both institutional  and interpersonal violence, filling the lives of  . Black Southerners with misery and terror.

To start, the Southern States used Jim Crow   laws to segregate Black communities and  prevent them from having access to any   of the resources that would make their homes,  neighborhoods, and communities better. As a result   many Black communities were dilapidated, and  generally just in poor, terrible condition.   What’s more, as we’ve talked about before, Black  people couldn’t even use the same water fountains,   hospitals, waiting rooms, and even cemeteries  as white people. I mean, you would think racism   would at least rest with the dead, but it  followed you even after you were buried.   Many of these Southern states used literacy tests,  poll taxes, and property requirements to make sure   that Black Americans couldn’t vote - eroding  the power of the 14th and 15th Amendments.   And then they took it to the extreme, by  violently destroying Black communities - think   the Wilmington, North Carolina Riots  of 1898 and the Atlanta Riots of 1906.   There were groups whose main goal was to maintain  White supremacy and Black subordination in   the South, used to beat, harass, and lynch  Black people with unsettling frequency.   Other White people who were not necessarily  affiliated with these groups also both watched and   participated in these violent acts.

In fact, many  people used to attend lynchings as family events.   This violence prompted Black people to literally  run for their lives to the North and the West.   Some have argued that, because of this, we  should actually think of the Great Migration   as a sort of refugee crisis. In her award-winning  book The Warmth of Other Suns, the Pulitzer-prize   winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson writes: “They traveled deep into far-flung regions   of their own country and in some cases clear  across the continent. Thus the Great Migration   had more in common with the vast movements of  refugees from famine, war, and genocide in other   parts of the world, where oppressed people,  whether fleeing twenty-first-century Darfur   or nineteenth-century Ireland, go great distances,  journey across rivers, deserts, and oceans or   as far as it takes to reach safety with the hope  that life will be better wherever they land.”   Newspapers like the Chicago Defender and other  informal networks like church groups, benevolent   societies, and Black Pullman Porters told the  stories of many Black Americans who were thriving   in the North, and that encouraged many Black  Southerners to take the risk and come join them.   But once they arrived there, things weren’t  just magically better.

Oftentimes, things   remained really tough. Poverty was wide-spread and  segregation was still in place. Racism, while it   may have looked different in these urban cities,  wasn’t just limited to the South.

So Black folks   established benevolent societies through churches  and other organizations to help the new migrants   and their families adjust to life in the North. Another fascinating part of the story of the Great   Migration is that many white people in the South,  as more and more Black people began to leave,   actually got nervous and were worried  that too many Black people were leaving.   See, as terribly as Black people were  treated on a social and political level,   the economic infrastructure of the South  relied heavily on Black people’s labor.   Some employers increased their wages to stem the  tide, but most of the time that wasn’t enough.   White southerners got so desperate that they  tried to pressure newspapers into telling more   negative stories about Black life in the North,  they would block trains and buses filled with   migrants from leaving the South, and even beat and  intimidated people for attempting to leave.   I mean, think about, you were beaten if you  stayed, and beaten if you tried to leave.   That was Black life in a nutshell. Something to remember is that, no matter what,   it is never easy to leave home.

Though much of  the land Black people lived on in the early 20th   century carried a lot of pain, it also carried  a lot of memories. It was part of their lineage.   It was part of their history. Leaving home isn’t easy, but that   also shows you how desperate people were for  both economic opportunity and for safety.   And while it wasn’t perfect, for many, the  North and the West did provide that.

People   were able to get economic opportunities  that they otherwise wouldn’t have had.   And while, to be sure, violence against Black  folks did exist in the North, it wasn’t nearly as   extensive as it was below the Mason Dixon line. What’s more the Great Migration created huge hubs   of Black urban spaces and culture. It would  go on to give us some of our best artists,   musicians, and writers.

The Great Migration   was nuanced, complicated, and dynamic, and  the story we tell about it should reflect   that complexity. It’s not just a story of what was  done to Black people, but it serves as an example   of Black Americans taking control of  their lives, identities, and destinies,   in a country that was constantly attempting  to strip all of those things away from them.   The writer Isbael Wilkerson puts it best: “Over the decades,   perhaps the wrong questions have been asked about  the Great Migration. Perhaps it is not a question   of whether the migrants brought good or ill to  the cities they fled to or were pushed or pulled   to their destinations, but a question of how they  summoned the courage to leave in the first place   or how they found the will to press beyond the  forces against them and the faith in a country   that had rejected them for so long.

By their  actions, they did not dream the American Dream,   they willed it into being by a definition of  their own choosing. They did not ask to be   accepted but declared themselves the Americans  that perhaps few others recognized but that   they had always been deep within their hearts.” Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next time!   Crash Course is made with the  help of all these nice people   and our animation team is Thought Cafe.

Crash Course is possible with the help   of all the people who bought the 2021 Crash  Course Learner Coin, and by all our Patrons   on Patreon. Thank you to all of our patrons and  supporters for making Crash Course possible.