What Was the Great Migration in African American History?

The Great Migration was a significant event in African American history that changed the course of the country’s demographics and culture. It refers to the period between 1916 and 1970 when millions of African Americans left the Southern states and moved to Northern, Western, and Midwestern cities in search of better economic opportunities and freedom from racial oppression.

Reasons behind the Great Migration

There were several reasons why African Americans decided to leave their homes in the South and move North. One of the primary reasons was economic opportunities.

The South was primarily agricultural, and most African Americans worked as sharecroppers or tenant farmers, which meant they were stuck in a cycle of poverty with little hope for upward mobility. In contrast, cities like Detroit, Chicago, and New York had booming industries that provided jobs for both skilled and unskilled workers.

Another reason for the Great Migration was racial oppression. The Jim Crow laws enforced segregation in the South, which meant African Americans were denied basic civil rights such as voting, education, and access to public spaces. Lynchings were also common during this time, making life dangerous for many African Americans.

The Journey North

The journey North was not easy for many African Americans. Most traveled by train or bus but faced discrimination even before they arrived at their destination. Some trains had separate cars for Black passengers or did not allow them to use certain facilities like restrooms or dining cars.

Despite these challenges, many African Americans persisted in their journey North because they believed it would provide a better life for themselves and their families.

Impact on Northern Cities

The Great Migration had a significant impact on Northern cities. It led to an increase in population diversity and helped shape the culture of these cities as new residents brought with them different traditions and perspectives.

However, it also led to overcrowding as many African Americans struggled to find suitable housing. Discrimination also persisted in the North, with many African Americans facing housing discrimination and employment discrimination.


In conclusion, the Great Migration was a significant event in African American history that had a lasting impact on the country’s demographics and culture. It represents the resilience and determination of African Americans to seek better opportunities despite facing significant obstacles. While the journey North was not easy, it paved the way for future generations to live a life with greater freedom and opportunity.