Negro Migration during the War
by Emmett J. Scott
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By the summer of 1916, the exodus from Florida had grown to such ungovernable bounds that the more stable classes of negroes became unsettled. A body, representing the influential colored citizens of the State, wrote the editor of the New York Age:[51]

Jacksonville, Fla., August 10, 1916.

To the Editor of the Age:

To be brief, I beg to state that the (——) of this city, in a regular meeting, voted last Monday that I write your paper asking advice on the subject of migration which is large and really alarming to the people of this State, for thousands of people (colored) are leaving this State, going to Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and New Jersey, where it is stated they are wanted as laborers in various pursuits. In your mind and to your knowledge, do you think it is the best thing for them to do, and are they bettering condition financially, morally and religiously; even in manhood, citizenship, etc. Our —— has been asked by the white and colored people here to speak in an advisory way, but we decided to remain silent until we can hear from reliable sources in the North and East, and you have been designated as one of the best. So to speak, our city is in a turmoil—in suspense. You have doubtless heard of the great exodus of negroes to the North, and we presume you have given it some thought, and even investigated it. Please give the benefit of your findings and reasons for your conclusion.

Thanking you in advance for a prompt and full reply to the corresponding secretary, Yours truly,

Corresponding Secretary.

Caught up in the wave of enthusiasm that swept over the South, these migrants could not resist the impulse to leave. The economic loss resulting from their reckless departure expressed in terms of dollars and cents is another story, and probably can never be even approximately estimated. What seems of most interest here is that they were in the frame of mind for leaving. They left as though they were fleeing some curse; they were willing to make almost any sacrifice to obtain a railroad ticket and they left with the intention of staying. What has been described, of course, can not be construed to apply to every one who left. There were those of the business and professional classes who were promoted by other motives than those which impelled the masses of migrants. There were, for example, migrants who in the South had held positions of relatively high standing by virtue of the fact that there do exist two institutional standards, the white and the black. Measured by the requirements of the latter, they stood high in the respect of the community, but when removed to the North they suffered in the rank of their occupation. A college president or even a school teacher had little opportunity in their respective fields in the North. They had, therefore, migrated because deserted by their neighbors they were left with a prospect of a diminishing social importance.

Professional men followed their practice. In Chicago there are at least six lawyers from Mississippi, with practically the same clientele. At the height of the exodus, one of these came to Chicago and secured admission to the bar in order that he might be in a position to move quickly if his practice were too severely cut down. Several physicians of the State have remarked that they would now be in the East or the North if reciprocity with the State of Mississippi were possible.[52] Business men have been reported to have moved North for the sole purpose of collecting debts. Others are cooler and more calculating in preparing to leave. One pharmacist, for instance, plans to move within the next five years. It is true that some of those who came in the movement would have come even if no one else had decided to migrate. The influence of the general state of mind, however, on the great majority is of most concern in determining the forces behind the exodus.

Possibly the numbers to leave the South would have been considerably smaller had there not been existent so universal a readiness to respond to a call in almost any direction. The causes of this state of mind are stated elsewhere. What is important here is the behavior of the persons leaving which exerted such a compelling influence on their neighbors. The actions are illustrative not only of the contagion of the movement, but of the fundamental emotions of the negroes who formed the exodus. Thus it was, for example, that the movement was called the "exodus" from its suggestive resemblance to the flight of the Israelites from Egypt, The Promised Land, Crossing over Jordan (the Ohio River), and Beulah Land. At times demonstrations took on a rather spectacular aspect, as when a party of 147 from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, while crossing the Ohio River, held solemn ceremonies. These migrants knelt down and prayed; the men stopped their watches and, amid tears of joy, sang the familiar songs of deliverance, "I done come out of the Land of Egypt with the good news." The songs following in order were "Beulah Land" and "Dwelling in Beulah Land." One woman of the party declared that she could detect an actual difference in the atmosphere beyond the Ohio River, explaining that it was much lighter and that she could get her breath more easily.[53]

The general direction of the spread of the movement was from east to west. While efforts were being made to check the exodus from Florida, the good citizens of Texas were first beginning to note a stir of unrest in their sections. On the other hand, the march of the boll weevil, that stripped the cotton fields of the South, was from west to east. Where there was wide unemployment, depression and poverty as a result of the great floods in Alabama, the cutting down of the cane area in Louisiana, the boll weevil in Mississippi, there were to be found thousands who needed no other inducement save the prospect of a good job. Indeed, it is alleged by some negroes that the myriads of labor agents who were said to be operating in the South were creatures of the imagination of an affrighted Southland; that but few were actually offering positions in the North; but their success was due to the overpowering desire on the part of the negroes to go.[54]

In September of 1916 a Georgia correspondent of the Atlanta Constitution wrote:

For the past two or three weeks I have been receiving two or more letters daily from people in all sections of Georgia asking my advice as to the advisability of the colored people leaving the State in large numbers, as they have been leaving for the past six months. I think it is a mistake for our people to sell and practically give their earnings of years just on a hearsay that they will be given larger salaries and great advantages in some other part of the country.

It will be remembered that the State of South Carolina was not immediately affected. It was not until the discussions bearing on the negro's insecurity and economic state, which accompanied the exodus in justification of it, had begun to be emphasized as the cause of the movement that a great exodus took place in the State. The principal occasion here was the unfortunate lynching of Anthony Crawford. A negro newspaper with a correspondent in Abbeville said:

The lynching of Anthony Crawford has caused men and women of this State to get up and bodily leave it. The lynching of Mr. Crawford was unwarranted and uncalled for and his treatment was such a disgrace that respectable people are leaving daily. When they begin to leave in the next few weeks like they have planned, this section will go almost into hysterics as some sections of Georgia and Alabama are doing because they are leaving for the North to better their industrial condition. Crawford is said to have been worth $100,000 in property. His wife and five sons have been ordered to leave. Word comes that neighbors are beginning to leave and the number the first of the week reached 1,000. The cry now is—"Go north, where there is some humanity, some justice and fairness." White people have accelerated the movement for the race to move north.

This, however, accounts principally for the spread of the movement as accomplished by northern capital which, hitting the South in spots, made it possible for a wider dissemination of knowledge concerning the North, and actually placed in the North persons with numerous personal connections at home. The husbands and fathers who preceded their families could and did command that they follow, and they in turn influenced their neighbors. It appears that those who came on free transportation were largely men who had no permanent interests or who could afford to venture into strange fields. This indiscriminate method of many of the transporting agencies undoubtedly made it possible for a great number of indigent and thriftless negroes simply to change the scene of their inaction. Yet it is unquestionably true that quite a large proportion of those who went North in this fashion were men honestly seeking remunerative employment, or persons who left through sheer desperation. In the second stage of the movement the club organizations, special parties and chartered cars did most perhaps to depopulate little communities and drain the towns and cities.

This is easily to be accounted for. The free trains, carrying mainly men, were uncertain. They were operated for brief periods in towns, but were in such ill favor with the police that passengers were not safe. The clubs or special parties were worked up by a leader, who was often a woman of influence. She sought her friends and a convenient date was appointed Arrangements could also be made with friends in the North to receive them. The effectiveness of this method is seen in the fact that neighbor was soliciting neighbor and friend persuading friend. Women in some of the northern cities, joining these clubs, assert that no persuasion was needed; that if a family found that it could not leave with the first groups, it felt desolate and willing to resort to any extremes and sacrifices to get the necessary fare. One woman in a little town in Mississippi, from which over half of the negro population had dribbled away, said: "If I stay here any longer, I'll go wild. Every time I go home I have to pass house after house of all my friends who are in the North and prospering. I've been trying to hold on here and keep my little property. There ain't enough people here I now know to give me a decent burial."

[Footnote 45: Work, Report on the Migration from Florida.]

[Footnote 46: Work and Johnson, Report on the Migration during the World War.]

[Footnote 47: The Chicago Defender, 1916, 1917.]

[Footnote 48: "Whether he knew what he was going for or not," says one, "he did not take time to consider. The slogan was 'going north.' Some never questioned the whys or wherefores but went; led as if, by some mysterious unseen hand which was compelling them on, they just couldn't stay. One old negro when asked why he was leaving, replied: 'I don't know why or where I'm going, but I'm on my way.' The northern fever was just simply contagious; they couldn't help themselves. So far as I know, and I think I am about right, this fever started in and around the vicinity of Bessemer, Alabama. One little village, especially, there was owned by a white man from my home who had gone there the year before carrying some negroes with him. The negroes started leaving this village so fast that he wouldn't allow any more tickets to be sold in this village, but the negroes only scoffed at this. They left the plantations at night and went to other villages for tickets. The fever had now begun and, like all other contagious diseases, it soon spread. I arrived home on May 4 and found my native town all in a bustle. Now, what was it all about? The next club for the North was leaving on May 18. The second-hand furniture store and junk shop were practically overflowing. People were selling out valuable furniture such as whole bedroom sets for only $2. One family that I knew myself sold a beautiful expensive home for only $100. In fact people almost gave away their houses and furnishings. Finally, the night for the club to leave came and the crowds at the train were so large that the policemen had to just force them back in order to allow the people to get on and off. After the train was filled with as many people as it could hold, the old engine gave one or two puffs and pulled out, bound for the promised land."

"A very close neighbor of ours," says one, "left for the North. He had a very small family. He left because his youngest son, who had been north a few months, came home with a considerable amount of money which he had saved while on his trip. The father made haste and sold all he had. His son got him a pass. He said it was far better for him to be in the North where he could stand up like a man and demand his rights; so he is there. His daughter Mary remained at home for some time after the family had gone. She finally wrote her father to send her a pass, which he did. She had a small boy that was given her. She was not able to take him and care for him as she would like. Her next door neighbor, a very fine woman who had no children, wanted a child so Mary gave it to her. To secure better wages and more freedom his oldest son went to East St. Louis and remained there until June. Then he left for Chicago. This family sold their chickens and rented their cattle to some of the people in that community."—Work and Johnson, Report on the Migration during the World War.]

[Footnote 49: Work and Johnson, Report on the Migration during the World War.]

[Footnote 50: Ibid.]

[Footnote 51: The New York Age, August 16, 1916.]

[Footnote 52: Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]

[Footnote 53: Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]

[Footnote 54: Work, Report on the Migration from Alabama.]



A surviving custom of servitude has consigned the mass of negroes to the lower pursuits of labor. Even at this it would be possible to live, for there would be work. In the North, however, such employment has been monopolized by foreign immigrants clearing Ellis Island at the rate of more than a million a year. The usurpation here brought no clash, for the number of negroes in the North scarcely equalled a year's immigration. From the ranks of unskilled labor, accordingly, they were effectively debarred, being used occasionally, and to their own detriment, as strike breakers and forced to receive smaller wages and to make more enemies. From the field of skilled labor they have been similarly debarred by the labor unions.

The labor unions have felt that they had a good case against the negro workman. The complaints most commonly made are that he could be too easily used as a strike breaker and that he lacked interest in the trade union movement. As a matter of fact, both are true. An explanation of this attitude at the same time brings out another barrier opposed by the North to the free access of negroes to trades. Considerable wavering has characterized the attitude of the trade unions toward negro labor. The complexity of their organization makes it difficult to place any responsibility directly for their shortcomings. The fact remains, however, that despite the declaration of the constitution of the federated body that no distinction shall be made on account of sex, color or creed, negroes have been systematically debarred from membership in a great number of labor bodies. Even where there has been no express prohibition in the constitution of local organizations the disposition to exclude them has been just as effective. Refused membership, they have easily become strike breakers. The indifference on the part of negroes to the labor movement, however, may well be attributed also to ignorance of its benefits. In a number of cases separate organizations have been granted them.

With the foreign immigration silently crowding him back into the South, the labor unions, the prejudices of his white fellow workman and the paucity of his number making him ineffective as a competitor, driving him from the door of the factory and workshop, the negro workman, whatever his qualifications, was prior to 1914 forced to enter the field of domestic service in the North and farming in the South. The conditions of livelihood in both sections kept him rigidly restricted to this limited economic sphere. In 1910 the total number of negroes ten years of age and over gainfully occupied in the United States was 5,192,535 or 71 per cent of the total number of negroes ten years of age and over. Of this number 2,848,258 or 55.2 per cent were farmers and 1,122,182 or 21.4 per cent were domestic servants. Out of nearly five hundred occupations listed in the census of 1910 three-fourths of the negro working population were limited to two. In the manufacturing and mechanical pursuits throughout the entire United States there were employed scarcely a half million or 12.1 per cent of the working population.

Statistics of labor conditions in certain northern cities support this conclusion. In New York City in 1910, of the negroes ten years of age and over gainfully occupied there were 33,110 males and 26,352 females. Of the males there were engaged in domestic and personal service 16,724 or 47.6 per cent of the total number of males. Of the 26,352 females there were in domestic service 24,647 or 93.5 per cent of the total number. In the occupations which require any degree of skill and utilise the training of acquired trades, the percentage was exceedingly low. For example, in the manufacturing and mechanical pursuits where there were the benefits of labor organizations and higher pay, there were but 4,504 negro males, or 13.6 per cent of the total number gainfully employed. The per cent of colored women in this line was considerably less. Taken together with the 1,993 dressmakers working outside of factories it was but 8.3 per cent of the total number of females. This line of work, however, as all who are familiar with the manner in which it is done will recognize, is but another form of domestic service. Exclusive of this number the per cent drops to a figure a trifle over one per cent.

Chicago, as another typical northern city, shows practically the same limitations on negro labor. In 1910 there were gainfully employed in this city 27,317 negroes. Of this total 61.8 per cent were engaged in domestic service. The negro women, of course, contributed a larger share to this proportion, theirs being 83.8 per cent of the females ten years of age and over gainfully employed. In the manufacturing and mechanical pursuits there were engaged 3,466 males and 1,038 females, or 18.7 and 1.1 per cent respectively.[55]

Detroit, viewed in the light of its tremendous increase, shows some of the widest differences. In 1910 there were 3,310 negroes of working age profitably employed. Of this number there were but 410 males and 74 females engaged in the manufacturing and mechanical pursuits. Forty-six of the total female working population were engaged in domestic service. Limited to a few occupations, the negroes naturally encountered there intense competition with the usual result of low wages and numerous other abuses. Whenever they entered new fields, as for instance those designated by the census as trade and transportation, they were generally compelled to accept wages below the standard to obtain such employment.

There appears to have been a slow but steady progress throughout the North toward the accession of negroes to new lines of occupation. This change was forced, unquestionably, by the necessity for seeking new fields even at an economic loss. From the lines of work in which negroes for a long time have held unquestioned prestige, the competition of other nationalities has removed them. It is difficult now to find a barber shop operated by a negro in the business district of any northern city. The most dangerous competitor of the negro in northern industry has been the immigrant, who, unconscious of his subtle inhibition on the negro's industrial development, crowded him out of employment in the North and fairly well succeeded in holding him in the South. After fifty years of European immigration the foreign born increased from two million to over thirteen million and only five per cent of them have settled in the South. Indeed, the yearly increase in foreign immigration equalled the entire negro population of the North.

The competition in the North has, therefore, been in consequence bitter and unrelenting. Swedes and Germans have replaced negroes in some cities as janitors. Austrians, Frenchmen and Germans have ousted them from the hotels, and Greeks have almost monopolized the bootblacking business. The decline in the domestic service quota of the working negro population, when there has been a decline, seems to have been forced. The figures of the United States census strengthen the belief that the World War has accomplished one of two things: It has either hastened the process of opening up larger fields or it has prevented a serious economic situation which doubtless would have followed the complete supplanting of negroes by foreigners in practically all lines.

Before the war the immigration of foreigners from Europe was proceeding at the enormous rate of over a million a year. This influx was so completely checked by the war that the margin of arrivals over departures for the first three years following the beginning of hostilities was the smallest in fifty years. The following is a statement taken from reports of the Bureau of Foreign Immigration.


Year Number 1913 1,197,892 1914 1,218,480 1915 326,700 1916 298,826 1917 295,403

The decrease of over 900,000 immigrants, on whom the industries of the North depended, caused a grave situation. It must be remembered also that of the 295,403 arrivals in 1917, there were included 32,346 English, 24,405 French and 13,350 Scotch who furnish but a small quota of the laboring classes. There were also 16,438 Mexicans who came over the border, and who, for the most part, live and work in the Southwest. The type of immigration which kept prime the labor market of the North and Northwest came in through Ellis Island. Of these, Mr. Frederick C. Howe, Commissioner of Immigration, said that "only enough have come to balance those who have left." He adds further that "As a result, there has been a great shortage of labor in many of our industrial sections that may last as long as the war."

With the establishment of new industries to meet the needs of the war, the erection of munitions plants for the manufacture of war materials and the enlargement of already existing industries to meet the abnormally large demand for materials here and in Europe, there came a shifting in the existing labor supply in the North. There was a rush to the higher paid positions in the munitions plants. This, together with the advancement of the white men to higher positions nearly depleted the ranks of common labor. The companies employing foreign labor for railroad construction work and in the steel mills of Pennsylvania, the tobacco fields of Connecticut, the packing houses, foundries and automobile plants of the Northwest, found it imperative to seek for labor in home fields. The Department of Labor, in the effort to relieve this shortage, through its employment service, at first assisted the migration northward. It later withdrew its assistance when its attention was called to the growing magnitude of the movement and its possible effect on the South.

Deserted by the Department of Labor, certain northern employers undertook to translate their desires into action in 1915, when the anxieties of the New England tobacco planters were felt in the New York labor market. These planters at first rushed to New York and promiscuously gathered up 200 girls of the worst type, who straightway proceeded to demoralize Hartford. The blunder was speedily detected and the employers came back to New York, seeking some agency which might assist them in the solution of their problem. Importuned for help, the National League on Urban Conditions among Negroes supplied these planters with respectable southern blacks who met this unusual demand for labor in Connecticut. Later, moreover, it appeared that on the threshold of an unusually promising year the Poles, Lithuanians and Czechs, formerly employed in the fields, were dwindling in number and there was not at hand the usual supply from which their workers were recruited. A large number of these foreigners had been called back to their fatherland to engage in the World War.

In January of 1916, therefore, the tobacco growers of Connecticut met in conference to give this question serious consideration. Mr. Floyd, the Manager of the Continental Tobacco Corporation, offered a solution for this difficult problem through the further importation of negro labor. The response to this suggestion was not immediate, because New England had never had large experience with negro labor. An intense interest in the experiment, however, was aroused through a number of men with connections in the South. It was decided that the National League on Urban Conditions among Negroes, with headquarters in New York City, should further assist in securing laborers. Because of the seasonal character of the work, an effort was made to get students from the southern schools by advancing transportation. The New York News, a negro weekly, says of this conference:

Thus was born, right in the heart of Yankee Land, the first significant move to supplant foreign labor with native labor, a step which has resulted in one of the biggest upheavals in the North incident to the European war, which has already been a boon to the colored American, improving his economic status and putting thousands of dollars into his pockets.[56]

The employers of the North felt justified in bringing about a more equitable distribution of the available labor supply in America. Discussing the labor situation before a conference in New York, Mr. E.J. Traily, Jr., of the Erie Railroad said:

The Erie Railroad has employed a large number of the negro migrants and we are still in need of more because of the abnormal state of labor conditions in this part of the country. It is altogether unfair that the southern States should enforce laws prohibiting the moving of labor from their borders, when there are railroads all over this country that would pay good wages to these laborers. I know of one railroad company last year, which never had a colored man in the service, that was offering large wages and scouring every place for colored help. At the same time the South had and still has a surplus of colored labor and would not permit it to be moved. These conditions actually exist, and I know it. I am interested in this thing not alone from the personal side of it, but due to the fact of my association with the Erie Railroad. I believe that the best thing that this body can do, in my judgment, is to pass resolutions demanding that the United States Emigration Bureau carry out the act passed by Congress empowering the Labor Department to place unoccupied men of other parts of the country where labor is needed.[57]

Early in the summer of 1916, the Pennsylvania and Erie Railroads promiscuously picked up trainloads of negroes from Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Pensacola, Florida. They were at first grouped in camps. The promise of a long free ride to the North met with instant favor, and wild excitement ensued as the news circulated. Carloads of negroes began to pour into Pennsylvania. When they had once touched northern soil and discovered that still higher wages were being offered by other concerns, many deserted the companies responsible for their presence in the North. Some drifted to the steel works of the same State; others left for points nearby. Letters written home brought news of still more enticing fields, and succeeded in stimulating the movement. Of the 12,000 negroes brought into Pennsylvania by the Pennsylvania Railroad, less than 2,000 remained with the company.[58]

It will no doubt be interesting to know exactly where these negroes settled in the North. For the purpose of understanding this distribution the North may well be divided according to the two main lines followed by the migrants in leaving the South. The South and middle Atlantic States sent the majority of their migrants directly up the Atlantic coast while the south central States fed the Northwest. There is, of course, no hard line of separation for these two streams. Laborers were sought in fields most accessible to the centers of industry, but individual choice as displayed in the extent of voluntary migration carried them everywhere.

The New England States, which were probably the first to attract this labor, were Connecticut and Massachusetts. The tobacco fields of Connecticut with Hartford as a center received the first negro laborers as mentioned above. Before a year had passed there were over 3,000 southern negroes in the city of Hartford. Massachusetts had its new war plants which served as an attraction. Holyoke received considerable advertisement through the National League on Urban Conditions among Negroes, and as a result secured a number directly from the South. Boston, which has always stood as a symbol of hope for those who sought relief from southern conditions, has not, however, at any time afforded any great variety of occupations for the peasant class of negroes. The receptions staged by the negro leaders of that city were stimulated apparently more by the sentimental causes of the movement than any other consideration. Although there existed in Boston the type of industries which required great numbers of men, barriers prevented negroes in large numbers from entering them and as a result there was no great influx of migrants from the South.

The places mentioned above are, of course, only those which received large numbers. Scattered all over this section of the country were thousands of individuals who, seeking more profitable employment, broke loose from the crowd congregating at favorite points. New York State with New York City as its center has received a considerable number. New York City, however, has been principally a rerouting point. In fact, many of those who subsequently went to New England first went to New York City. The State of New York recruited its labor here. There came to New York probably no less than 75,000 negroes, a large portion of whom stopped in New York City, although Albany, Poughkeepsie, Buffalo and smaller cities received their share.

New Jersey, because of the great number of its industrial plants, was rapidly filled. Newark alone augmented its colored population within a little over a year by one hundred per cent. The attractions in this State were the munitions plants, brick yards and wire factories. The principal cities here that might be mentioned are Newark, Trenton and Jersey City, although the migration to the last two cities hardly compares in volume to that of Newark. Delaware, bordering New Jersey, received a few.[59] Washington, the Capital City and the gateway to the North, already containing the largest negro population of any city in the country was in the path of the migration and had its increase of population accelerated by the war. A considerable number of southern negroes found work there, principally in domestic service. Pennsylvania, the first northern State to begin wholesale importation of labor from the South, is the seat of the country's largest steel plants and is the terminal of three of the country's greatest railroad systems. Pittsburgh received perhaps the largest number; Philadelphia and Harrisburg followed in order. The numerous little industrial centers dotting the State fed from the supply furnished by the railroads.[60]

The migration to the Northwest was more extensive. Ohio, the State of vital historical association for negroes, was generously visited. Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Akron and Youngstown were popular centers. The coal mines, factories and iron works were most in need of men, and obtained them without any great difficulty. Indiana, still probably remembered as the delicate spot in the inquiry following a similar migration thirty-nine years ago, with its very highly developed industries caught the flood proceeding up the Mississippi valley. Indianapolis was a popular point although not a satisfactory one for the migrants, who pretty generally left it for better fields. Gary and Indiana Harbor, more properly satellite cities of Chicago, developed an almost entirely new negro population.

Missouri, a border State, has one city with a considerably augmented negro population. The size of the new population of St. Louis can be accounted for by the fact that geographically it is the first city of the North. East St. Louis, recently made notorious by the reception which it accorded its newcomers, is surrounded by a number of satellite towns, all of which made bids for labor from the South and received it. Not a few negro laborers went to Kansas City from which many were rerouted to other points. Nebraska received a large number of migrants as a direct result of self-advertisement. Omaha was the city which invited them and received the bulk of immigration to that State.

Illinois, the one State known throughout the South because of Chicago, received probably the heaviest quota of any. Located as it is in the center of industry for the Middle West and known to negroes as a "fair" State, it received through Chicago as many at least as the entire State of Pennsylvania. Chicago is the center of a cluster of industrial towns. It has served as a point of distribution through its numerous employment agencies for the territory northwest and northeast. Michigan has one large city, Detroit, which has recently increased its population one hundred per cent because of its number of highly developed industries which have supplied employment for its rapidly increasing population.[61]

The eastern cities which made efforts through various means to augment their labor supply were Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Newark, New York City and Hartford. It is manifestly impossible to get reliable figures on the volume of increase in the negro population of any of these cities. All that is available is in the form of estimates which can not be too confidently relied upon. Estimates based on the average number of arrivals from the South per day, the increase in the school population and the opinions of social agencies which have engaged themselves in adjusting the newcomers to their new homes appear to agree in the main.

[Footnote 55: These facts appear in the United States Census Reports.]

[Footnote 56: The New York News.]

[Footnote 57: New York Age, January 30, 1917; Christian Recorder, Philadelphia, February 2, 1917.]

[Footnote 58: Ibid.]

[Footnote 59: Fortune, Report on Negro Migration to the East.]

[Footnote 60: Ibid.]

[Footnote 61: These estimates are based upon the reports of investigators sent to make a study of the condition of the migrants.]



In order better to understand the migration movement, a special study of it was made for five adjoining States, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, from which came more than half of all migrants. The negro population of these five States was 4,115,299, which was almost half of the negro population of the South. In the particular sections of these States where the migration was the heaviest, the one crop system, cotton, was general. As a result of the cotton price demoralization resulting from the war, the labor depression, the ravages of the cotton boll weevil, and in some regions unusual floods, as already stated, there was in this section of the South an exceptionally large amount of surplus labor. The several trunk line railroads directly connecting this section with the northern industrial centers made the transportation of this labor an easy matter.

In 1915, the labor depression in Georgia was critical and work at remunerative wages was scarce. In Atlanta strong pressure was brought to bear to have the negroes employed in cleaning the streets replaced by whites who were out of work. It was reported that the organized charities of Macon, in dealing with the question of the unemployed, urged whites employing negroes to discharge the blacks and hire whites. Mr. Bridges Smith, the mayor of the city, bitterly opposed this suggestion. When the 1915 cotton crop began to ripen it was proposed to compel the unemployed negroes in the towns to go to the fields and pick cotton. Commenting editorially on this, the Atlanta Constitution said:

The problem of the unemployed in Albany, Georgia, is being dealt with practically. All negroes who have not regular employment are offered it in the cotton fields, the immense crop requiring more labor than the plantations ordinarily have. If the unemployed refuse the opportunity, the order "move on" and out of the community is given by the chief of police, and the order must be obeyed. Though the government is taking up very systematically the problem of the unemployed, its solving will be slow, and the government aid for a long time will have to be supplementary to work in this direction, initiated in communities, municipalities and States, where the problem of the unemployed is usually complex.[62]

In the course of time, when the negroes did leave, they departed in such large numbers that their going caused alarm. Because they left at night the number of negroes going north from the immediate vicinity was not generally realized. One night nearly fifty of Tifton boarded northbound passenger trains, which already carried, it is said, some three hundred negroes. Labor agents had been very active in that section all fall, but so cleverly had they done their work that officers had not been able to get a line on them. For several weeks, the daily exodus, it is said, had ranged from ten to twenty-five.[63]

Columbus was an assembling point for migrants going from east Alabama and west Georgia. Railroad tickets would be bought from local stations to Columbus, and there the tickets or transportation for the North, mainly to Chicago, would be secured. Americus was in many respects similarly affected, having had many of its important industries thereby paralyzed. Albany, a railroad center, became another assembling point for migrants from another area. Although difficulties would be experienced in leaving the smaller places directly for the North, it was easy to purchase a ticket to Albany and later depart from that town. The result was that Albany was the point of departure for several thousand negroes, of whom a very large percentage did not come from the towns or Dougherty county in which Albany is situated.[64]

A negro minister, well acquainted with the situation in southwest Georgia, was of the opinion that the greatest number had gone from Thomas and Mitchell counties and the towns of Pelham and Thomasville. Valdosta, with a population of about 8,000 equally divided between the races became a clearing house for many migrants from southern Georgia. The pastor of one of the leading churches said that he lost twenty per cent of his members. The industrial insurance companies reported a twenty per cent loss in membership.[65] Waycross,[66] a railroad center in the wire grass section of the State, with a population of 7,700 whites and 6,700 negroes, suffered greatly from the migration. Hundreds of negroes in this section were induced by the employment bureaus and industrial companies in eastern States to abandon their homes. From Brunswick, one of the two principal seaports in Georgia, went 1,000 negroes, the chief occupation of whom was stevedoring. Savannah, another important seaport on the south Atlantic coast, with a population of about 70,000, saw the migration attain unusually large proportions, so as to cause almost a panic and to lead to drastic measures to check it.

The migration was from all sections of Florida. The heaviest movements were from west Florida, from Tampa and Jacksonville. Capitola early reported that a considerable number of negroes left that vicinity, some going north, a few to Jacksonville and others to south Florida to work on the truck farms and in the phosphate mines. A large number of them migrated from Tallahassee to Connecticut to work in the tobacco fields. Owing to the depredations of the boll weevil, many others went north. Most of the migration in west Florida, however, was rural as there are very few large towns in that section. Yet, although they had no such assembling points as there were in other parts of the South, about thirty or thirty-five per cent of the labor left. In north central Florida near Apalachicola fifteen or twenty per cent of the labor left. In middle Florida around Ocala and Gainesville probably twenty to twenty-five per cent of the laborers left, chiefly because of the low wages. The stretch of territory between Pensacola and Jacksonville was said to be one of the most neglected sections in the South, the migration being largely of farm tenants with a considerable number of farm owners. There were cases of the migration of a whole community including the pastor of the church.[67]

Live Oak, a small town in Sewanee county, experienced the same upheaval, losing a large proportion of its colored population. Dunnelon, a small town in the southern part of Marion county, soon found itself in the same situation. Lakeland, in Polk county, lost about one-third of its negroes. Not less than one-fourth of the black population of Orlando was swept into this movement. Probably half of the negroes of Palatka, Miami and De Land, migrated as indicated by schools and churches, the membership of which decreased one-half. From 3,000 to 5,000 negroes migrated from Tampa and Hillsboro county. Jacksonville, the largest city in Florida, with a population of about 35,000 negroes, lost about 6,000 or 8,000 of its own black population and served as an assembling point for 14,000 or 15,000 others who went to the North.[68]

By September, 1916, the movement in Alabama was well under way. In Selma there was made the complaint that a new scheme was being used to entice negroes away. Instead of advertising in Alabama papers, the schemes of the labor agents were proclaimed through papers published in other States and circulated in Alabama. As a result there was a steady migration of negroes from Alabama to the North and to points in Tennessee and Arkansas where conditions were more inviting and wages higher. Estimates appear to indicate, however, that Alabama, through the migration, lost a larger proportion of her negro population than did any one of the other southern States.[69]

From Eufaula in the eastern part of the State it was reported in September that trains leaving there on Sundays in 1916 were packed with negroes going north, that hundreds left, joining crowds from Clayton, Clio and Ozark. There seemed to be a "free ride" every Sunday and many were giving up lucrative positions there to go. The majority of these negroes, however, went from the country where they had had a disastrous experience with the crops of the year 1916 on account of the July floods.[70] By October the exodus from Dallas county had reached such alarming proportions that farmers and business men were devising means to stop it.

Bullock county, with a working population of 15,000 negroes, lost about one-third and in addition about 1,500 non-workers. The reports of churches as to the loss of membership at certain points justify this conclusion. Hardly any of the churches escaped without a serious loss and the percentage in most cases was from twenty-five to seventy per cent.[71] It seemed that these intolerable conditions did not obtain in Union Springs. According to persons living in Kingston, the wealthiest and the most prosperous negroes of the district migrated. In October, 1916, some of the first large groups left Mobile, Alabama, for the Northwest. The report says: "Two trainloads of negroes were sent over the Louisville and Nashville Railroad to work in the railroad yards and on the tracks in the West. Thousands more are expected to leave during the next month."

As soon as the exodus got well under way, Birmingham became one of the chief assembling points in the South for the migrants and was one of the chief stations on the way north. Thousands came from the flood and boll weevil districts to Birmingham. The records of the negro industrial insurance companies showed the effects of the migration both from and to Birmingham. The Atlanta Mutual Insurance Company lost 500 of its members and added 2,000. Its debit for November, 1916, was $502.25; for November, 1917, it was $740. The business of the Union Central Relief Association was greatly affected by the migration. The company in 1916 lost heavily. In 1917 it cleared some money.

The State of Mississippi, with a larger percentage of negroes than any other State in the Union, naturally lost a large number of its working population. There has been in progress for a number of years a movement from the hill counties of the State of Mississippi to the Delta, and from the Delta to Arkansas. The interstate migration has resulted from the land poverty of the hill country and from intimidation of the "poor whites" particularly in Amite, Lincoln, Franklin and Wilkinson counties. In 1908 when the floods and boll weevil worked such general havoc in the southwestern corner of the State, labor agents from the Delta went down and carried away thousands of families. It is estimated that more than 8,000 negroes left Adams county during the first two years of the boll weevil period. Census figures for 1910 show that the southwestern counties suffered a loss of 18,000 negroes. The migration of recent years to adjacent States has been principally to Arkansas.[72]

Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, seriously felt the migration. The majority of the "lower middle class" of negroes, twenty-five per cent of the business men and fully one-third of the professional men left the city—in all between 2,000 and 5,000. Two of the largest churches lost their pastors and about 200 of each of their memberships. Other churches suffered a decrease of forty per cent in their communicants. Two-thirds of the remaining families in Jackson are part families with relatives who have recently migrated to the North.

For years the negroes of Greenville have been unsettled and dissatisfied to the extent of leaving. Negroes came from Leland to Greenville to start for the North. This condition has obtained there ever since the World's Fair in Chicago, when families first learned to go to that section whenever opportunities for establishment were offered them. Although the negroes from Greenville are usually prosperous, during this exodus they have mortgaged their property or placed it in the hands of friends on leaving for the North. Statistics indicate that in the early part of the movement at least 1,000 left the immediate vicinity of Greenville and since that time others have continued to go in large numbers.[73]

Greenwood, with a population evenly balanced between the white and black, had passed through the unusual crisis of bad crops and the invasion of the boll weevil. The migration from this point, therefore, was at first a relief to the city rather than a loss. The negroes, in the beginning, therefore, moved into the Delta and out to Arkansas until the call for laborers in the North. The migration from this point to the North reached its height in the winter and spring of 1916 and 1917. The migrants would say that they were going to Memphis, but when you next heard from them they would be in Chicago, St. Louis or Detroit. The police at the Illinois Central depot had been handling men roughly. When they were rude to one, ten or twelve left. Young men usually left on night trains. Next day their friends would say, "Ten left last night," or, "Twelve left last night." In this manner the stream started. Friends would notify others of the time and place of special trains. The type of negro leaving is indicated in the decline in the church membership. Over 300 of those who left were actively connected with some church. During the summer of 1917, 100 houses stood vacant in the town and over 300 were abandoned in the McShein addition. As the crops were gathered people moved in from the country, from the southern part of the State and from the "hills" generally to take the places of those who had left for the North.

There was no concerted movement from Clarksdale, a town with a population of about 400 whites and 600 blacks; but families appeared to slip away because of the restlessness and uneasiness in evidence everywhere. From the rural district around there was considerable migration to Arkansas, but considerable numbers were influenced to leave for Buffalo and Chicago. Mound Bayou lost some of its population also to Arkansas and the North, as they could buy land cheaper in the former and find more lucrative employment in the latter. Natchez did not suffer a serious loss of population until the invasion of the boll weevil and the floods.

Hattiesburg, a large lumber center, was at the beginning of the exodus, almost depopulated. Some of the first migrants went to Pennsylvania but the larger number went to Chicago. It became a rallying point for many negroes who assembled there ostensibly to go to New Orleans, at which place they easily provided for their transportation to Chicago and other points in the North. From Laurel in Jones county, a large sawmill district, it is estimated that between 4,000 and 5,000 negroes moved north. About 3,000 left Meridian for Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Indianola, a town with a number of negro independent enterprises, also became upset by this movement, losing a considerable number of progressive families. Gulfport, a coast town a short distance from New Orleans, lost about one-third of its negro population. About 45 families left Bobo for Arkansas, and 15 families went to the North. Johnstown, Mississippi, lost 150 of its 400 negroes.[74]

The owners of turpentine industries and lumber plants in southeastern Mississippi were especially affected by the exodus. In Hinds, Copiah, Lincoln, Rankin, Newton and Lake counties, many white residents rather than suffer their crops to be lost, worked in the fields. It was reported that numbers of these whites were leaving for the Delta and for Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. Firms there attempted to look in the North that they might send for the negroes whom they had previously employed, promising them an advance in wages.

At the same time the Illinois Central Railroad was carrying from New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana thousands into Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. At the Illinois Central Railroad station in that city, the agent had been having his hands full taking names of colored laborers wanting and waiting to go North. About the first of April, 1917, there came also the reports from New Orleans that 300 negro laborers left there on the Southern Pacific steamer for New York, and 500 more left later on another of the same company's steamships bound also for New York, it was said, to work for the company. Thousands thus left for the North and West and East, the number reaching over 1,200.

It is an interesting fact that this migration from the South followed the path marked out by the Underground Railroad of antebellum days. Negroes from the rural districts moved first to the nearest village or town, then to the city. On the plantations it was not regarded safe to arrange for transportation to the North through receiving and sending letters. On the other hand, in the towns and cities there was more security in meeting labor agents. The result of it was that cities like New Orleans, Birmingham, Jacksonville, Savannah and Memphis became concentration points. From these cities migrants were rerouted along the lines most in favor.

The principal difference between this course and the Underground Railroad was that in the later movement the southernmost States contributed the largest numbers. This perhaps is due in part to the selection of Florida and Georgia by the first concerns offering the inducement of free transportation, and at the same time it accounts for the very general and intimate knowledge of the movement by the people in States through which they were forced to pass. In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for example, the first intimation of a great movement of negroes to the North came through reports that thousands of negroes were leaving Florida for the North. To the negroes of Florida, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia the North means Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and New England. The route is more direct, and it is this section of the northern expanse of the United States that gets widest advertisement through tourists, and passengers and porters on the Atlantic coast steamers. The northern newspapers with the greatest circulation are from Pennsylvania and New York, and the New York colored weeklies are widely read. Reports from all of these south Atlantic States indicate that comparatively few persons ventured into the Northwest when a better known country lay before them.

The Pennsylvania Railroad, one of the first to import laborers in large numbers, reports that of the 12,000 persons brought to Pennsylvania over its road, all but 2,000 were from Florida and Georgia. The tendency was to continue along the first definite path. Each member of the vanguard controlled a small group of friends at home, if only the members of his immediate family. Letters sent back, representing that section of the North and giving directions concerning the route best known, easily influenced the next groups to join their friends rather than explore new fields. In fact, it is evident throughout the movement that the most congested points in the North when the migration reached its height, were those favorite cities to which the first group had gone.[75] An intensive study of a group of 77 families from the South, selected at random in Chicago, showed but one family from Florida and no representation at all from North and South Carolina. A tabulation of figures and facts from 500 applications for work by the Chicago League on Urban Conditions among Negroes gives but a few persons from North Carolina, twelve from South Carolina and one from Virginia. The largest number, 102, came from Georgia. Applicants for work in New York from the south Atlantic States are overwhelming.[76]

For the east and west south central States, the Northwest was more accessible and better known. St. Louis and Cincinnati are the nearest northern cities to the South and excursions have frequently been run there from New Orleans, through the State of Mississippi. There are in St. Louis, as in other more northern cities, little communities of negroes from the different sections of the South. The mail order and clothing houses of Chicago have advertised this city throughout the South. The convenience of transportation makes the Northwest a popular destination for migrants from Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Tennessee. The Illinois Central Railroad runs directly to New Orleans through Tennessee and Mississippi.

There were other incidental factors which determined the course of the movement. Free trains from different sections broke new paths by overcoming the obstacles of funds for transportation. No questions were asked of the passengers, and, in some instances, as many as were disposed to leave were carried. When once they had advanced beyond the Mason and Dixon line, many fearing that fees for transportation would be deducted from subsequent pay, if they were in the employ of the parties who, as they understood, were advancing their fares, deserted the train at almost any point that looked attractive. Employment could be easily secured and at good wages. Many of these unexpected and premature destinations became the nucleuses for small colonies whose growth was stimulated and assisted by the United States postal service.

* * * * *

* * * * *

[Footnote 62: Atlanta Constitution, August 28, 1915.]

[Footnote 63: Ibid., December 13, 1916.]

[Footnote 64: A leading colored physician of Albany in commenting on the exodus said: "A considerable number went from town and county. The number was not near so great, however, as from other counties." He was of the opinion that not more than eight or ten families had left. He said that his practice had not been affected. Individuals came in from other sections and took the place of those who went away. He was of the opinion that the fever was about over. This was due to the shortage of labor created by the draft, the increase in wages and better treatment, particularly the latter. Tenants on plantations were receiving better treatment than they formerly received. Some plantation owners as an inducement to their tenants were furnishing each with a cow and a sow. Farm labor which was formerly paid $8 to $12 per month, now received from $20 to $30 per month. He said he knew of one plantation owner who was paying his hands $1.25 per day. This doctor said he was reliably informed that many negroes had left Lee and Calhoun counties and the whites had to go in the fields and plow. As a result of the exodus, the white and colored men of Albany had got closer together. He had recently been elected a member of the Albany Chamber of Commerce, and he understood that about twelve colored men had been invited to become members of the Chamber to assist in working for the development of the county.

One of the colored druggists in Georgia said that Albany was a central point, and that a great many came from Cuthbert, Arlington, Leary and Calhoun, Early and Miller counties to Albany as a starting point for the North. Many went from Albany to Chicago and Philadelphia, but he was of the opinion that the largest number had gone to New Jersey. Migration has been affected by the draft and new opportunities opening up in the South. He said that whites became alarmed and called a meeting and invited some colored persons to consult with them.—Work, Report on Migration from Georgia.]

[Footnote 65: "The migration of negroes from this city to the North set in again this week, after a comparative lull of two months. A party of twelve left here yesterday for Jersey City, while twenty others are expected to leave shortly. Many women are going with the men, in some cases leaving their children. Stories of suffering from cold, brought back by negroes during this winter, checked the movement considerably. Several hundred negroes will leave here this spring."—Atlanta Constitution, March 26, 1917.]

[Footnote 66: A report from there, in the Savannah Morning News, of December 3, 1916, said: "Hundreds of negroes in this section recently have been fleeced by white men posing as agents of large employment bureaus and industrial companies in the eastern States. The most recent instance of the easy marks is reported from Coffee county, but it is in line with what has been happening in other counties. The so-called agent collects a registration fee, giving in return for the money, usually one or two dollars, a card which is said to entitle the bearer to a position at such and such a plant. The negroes get on the train on the date specified, the agent meeting them at the station. He tells them he will have a party ticket for the entire number and to tell the conductor to collect their fares from him. The negroes of course leave home for the point where they think they will be given work, and apparently are a happy lot. But when ticket collecting time comes there is another story to tell.

"Thirty-seven negroes the other day boarded a northbound train at Douglas for Pittsburgh. The agent was on hand to check each one and then he got aboard, or so the negroes thought. A few miles from Douglas the conductor found he had thirty-seven ticketless passengers. And none of the negroes had the money to pay the fare to Pittsburgh. The train was stopped, and the negroes returned home, wiser and vowing they were 'done with leaving home.' Quite a number of negroes have come to Waycross to meet agents and go north. Before coming here the negroes of course had contributed."]

[Footnote 67: Work, Report on the Migration from Florida.]

[Footnote 68: Work, Report on the Migration from Florida.]

[Footnote 69: Work, Report on the Migration from Alabama.]

[Footnote 70: Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser, September 27, 1916.]

[Footnote 71: The investigator had been in Union Springs on a Saturday before there was a migration. The crowds on the streets were so great that it was difficult for one to pass. On Saturday, November 17, 1917, the investigator was again in Union Springs. It was an ideal autumn day. Good crops had been made in the county. Especially high prices were being paid for all sorts of farm produce. The market season was on. Court was in session. The streets, however, had about the crowds to be found on some days, other than Saturday, before the migration began.]

[Footnote 72: The reasons back of this, as obtained from migrants themselves, are that, except in the town of Mound Bayou, negroes have not been encouraged to own property or rent, but to work on shares; in Arkansas it is possible to buy good land cheaply and on reasonable terms; inducements are offered by Arkansas in the form of better treatment and schools; there are no such "excessive" taxes as are required in the Mississippi Delta to protect them from the overflows; the boll weevil has not yet seriously affected that State, and a small farmer may be fairly independent in Arkansas.]

[Footnote 73: The lumber mills and the local corporations provide a great part of the work for laborers in the city. Wages last year ranged from $1.25 to $1.50 a day. Wages at present are $1.75 and $2 a day. Cotton picking last year brought 60 and 75 cents a hundred; at present $2 is paid for every hundred pounds picked. The city has enacted "move on" laws intending to get rid of drones. The police, it is said, could not distinguish drones from "all negroes."

It was further complained that the police deputies and sheriffs are too free with the use of their clubs and guns when a negro is involved. It was related that Dr. ——, practising 47 years in Greenville, Mississippi, was driving his buggy in a crowded street on circus day when he was commanded by a policeman to drive to one side and let a man pass. He replied that he could not because he himself was jammed. He was commanded again and then dragged from the buggy, clubbed and haled into the police court and fined. The officer who arrested him swore that he had given frequent trouble, which was untrue according to reliable testimony and his own statement. This incident is also told:

A policeman's friend needed a cook. The policeman drove by a negro home and, seeing a woman on the porch, told her to get in the buggy. No questions were permitted. She was carried to his friend's home and told to work. The woman prepared one meal and left the city for the North.—Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]

[Footnote 74: Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]

[Footnote 75: Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]

[Footnote 76: Ibid.]



The departure of the first negroes usually elicited no concern from the authorities. It was assumed that their actions were merely expressions of the negro's "love for travel," and that they would soon return. When, however, they did not return and hosts of others followed, the white South became deeply concerned and endeavored to check the movement. Throughout the exodus drastic legislation and force were employed. In Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Georgia laws were passed in an effort to suppress the activities of labor agents. Licenses were made prohibitively high; labor agents were arrested and heavily fined. In some cases their coming was penalized to prohibit their operations entirely and they frequently suffered physical injury.

In Florida labor recruiting early assumed a serious aspect. Precaution was, therefore, taken to impede the progress of the work of labor agents among negroes, at first by moral suasion and then by actual force. The cities and towns of this State enacted measures requiring a very high license of labor agents, imposing in case of failure to comply with these regulations, a penalty of imprisonment. For example, in Tampa when these operations were brought to the attention of the authorities, Joe Robinson, a negro officer, was detailed to investigate the matter. He discovered that one Joyce and another negro named Alex Reeves were implicated in the movement. These men were charged with having collected $7 from each of several hundred negroes who wanted to go to Pennsylvania. A meeting among the negroes of Tampa was then held to secure pledges of assistance for the negro officer, then making an effort to prevent the exodus. Being under the impression that the ignorant members of their race were being imposed upon by agents from without, many of these leading negroes pledged themselves to assist in the suppression of it.[77]

In Jacksonville, where the labor agents flourished, the City Council passed an ordinance requiring that migration agents should pay $1,000 license to recruit labor sent out of the State under penalty of $600 fine and 60 days in jail. Several police detectives were assigned the task of arresting those who were said to be spreading false reports among negroes there to the effect that special trains were ready on various specified dates to take them to points in the North. When, therefore, large crowds of negroes gathered near the Union Depot in Jacksonville, awaiting the so-called special train, they were handled rather roughly by the police when it was shown that they had not purchased tickets and there was no one to vouch for their transportation.

The same condition with respect to the apparent necessity for prohibitive measures obtained in Georgia. The local governments early took action to prevent the drain of the labor population to northern States through the operation of labor agents. It was soon observed, however, that these agents worked out their schemes so clandestinely that it was impossible to check the movement by such measures. Fearing that the general unrest among the negroes of the city and the efforts that were being put forth on the part of the authorities to keep them from being transported from Macon to the North, might result in a riot with which the city authorities would not be able to cope, Chief of Police George S. Riley recommended to the civil service commission that forty magazine rifles be purchased for the police department.[78] At that time the police had only their pistols and clubs. It was said that surliness then existed among certain negroes and the police wanted to be able to cope with any situation that might arise. The City Council, thereafter, raised the license fee for labor agents to $25,000, requiring also that such an agent be recommended by ten local ministers, ten manufacturers and twenty-five business men. The police of Macon were very active in running down labor agents violating this law.

Americus was honeycombed and carefully watched and searched for persons inducing negroes to migrate, as there was a large exodus of negroes from this city to the tobacco fields of Connecticut. Negroes attempting to leave were arrested and held to see if by legal measures they could be deterred from going North. The officers in charge of this raid were armed with State warrants charging misdemeanors and assisted by a formidable array of policemen and deputy sheriffs. Negroes were roughly taken from the trains and crowded into the prisons to await trial for these so-called misdemeanors. Although the majority of them were set free after their trains had left the city, the leaders in most cases suffered humiliation at the hands of the officers of the law.[79]

At Thomasville, a white man and a negro were arrested, charged with the usual crime of being labor agents. Much excitement followed. Fearing serious results, the colored ministers of this city endeavored to stop the exodus. A committee of their most prominent citizens met with the mayor and discussed the matter freely. They arranged for a large mass meeting of white and colored citizens who undertook to cooperate in bringing the exodus to an end. The white citizens of Waycross experienced the same trouble with labor agents, but had much difficulty in finding out exactly who they were and how they contrived to make such inroads on the population.[80]

The situation became more critical in Savannah, one of the largest assembling points for migrants in the South. When the loss of labor became so serious and ordinary efforts to check it failed, more drastic measures were resorted to. On the thirteenth of August, for example, when there spread through the city the rumor that two special trains would leave for the North there followed great commotion among the negroes, who, already much disturbed by the agitation for and against the movement, were easily induced to start for the North. When, at about five o'clock that morning, 2,000 negroes assembled at the station for this purpose, the county police, augmented by a detachment of city officers, appeared at the station and attempted to clear the tracks; but the crowd being so large the officers finally found their task impossible, for as they would clear one section of the tracks the crowd would surge to another. The crowd was extremely orderly and good natured and the two arrests that were made were for minor offenses. As these trains failed to move according to orders, over 300 of this group paid their own fares and proceeded to the North.[81]

A few days later Savannah reached a crisis in the labor movement agitation, when over 100 negroes were placed under arrest at the Union Depot and sent to the police barracks. Several patrol wagon loads of police arrived at the station and immediately a cordon was formed by the police around all negroes in the lobby and every exit from the station was guarded. By this unusual sight many persons were attracted to the station and excitement ran high. Many negroes were arrested with a view to finding out the leaders of the movement, but upon failure to discover the facts in the case the lieutenant in charge ordered the men in custody to be incarcerated on charges of loitering.

To show how groundless these charges were, one need but to note the character of some of the persons arrested. Four carpenters from Lumpkin, Georgia, had just arrived and were waiting for a contractor for whom they had agreed to work a short distance from the city. Another young man entered the station to purchase a ticket to Burroughs, Georgia, to see relatives, but he was not only incarcerated but had to give a bond of $100 for his appearance next morning. Another young man, working for the Pullman Company, entered the depot to cash a check for $11 when he was arrested, sent to jail and searched. Still another, a middle-aged man of most pleasing appearance, had just arrived from Jacksonville, Florida, and was waiting in the station until the time to proceed by boat that afternoon to New York. On one occasion, J.H. Butler, manager of the Savannah Tribune, a negro newspaper, was arrested charged with violation of the city and State law of sending labor out of the city. He was obliged to give bond of $400 to appear in court the next day. At the same time seventeen college boys who were waiting at a New York steamer dock were also apprehended. The trial of the men before the recorder proved farcical, not a single one of the hundred or more prisoners being required to testify. After the chief of the detective force and several police lieutenants had testified, Recorder Schwartz ordered the men all released, but not before he had taken occasion to upbraid the police force for the unnecessarily large number of arrests.[82]

Alabama was equally alive to the need to suppress the migration propaganda among negroes. To this end the Montgomery City Commission on September 19, 1916, passed an ordinance to the effect that any person who would entice, persuade or influence any laborer or other person to leave the city of Montgomery for the purpose of being employed at any other place as a laborer must on conviction be fined not less than one nor more than one hundred dollars, or may be sentenced to hard labor for the city, for not more than six months, one or both in the discretion of the court. The other ordinance provided that any person, firm or corporation who published, printed or wrote or delivered or distributed or posted or caused to be published, printed or written or delivered or distributed or posted, any advertisement, letter, newspaper, pamphlet, handbill or other writing, for the purpose of enticing, persuading or influencing any laborer or other person to leave the city of Montgomery for the purpose of being employed at any other place as a laborer must on conviction be fined not less than one hundred dollars, or may be sentenced to hard labor for the city for not more than six months, one or both in the discretion of the court. Labor agents and other leaders both white and black were arrested throughout the State in accordance with the usual custom of preferring technical charges.[83]

The treatment of the movement in Mississippi was no exception to the rule. At Jackson, the "pass riders," as they were called, were so molested by the police that they were finally driven from the town. In the same town the citizens were reported to have forced the railroads to discontinue the use of passes on the threat of damaging their interests and influencing decisions in court cases. Negroes were secretly enticed away, however, after they had been dispersed from the railway stations and imprisoned when in the act of boarding the trains. The police interfered at one time with negroes leaving, especially when it was suspected that they were leaving on passes. To circumvent this, negroes would go two or three stations below Jackson where there were no policemen and board the trains. It was the unanimous opinion of whites and blacks who observed the almost frantic efforts to leave the town, that any attempt to hinder by intimidation or by making it difficult to leave, simply served to make them more determined to leave.[84]

At Greenville, Mississippi, trains were stopped. Negroes were dragged therefrom and others were prevented from boarding them. Strangers were searched for evidence that might convict them as labor agents. It is also reported that local authorities were reprimanded for interfering with interstate commerce. At Greenwood there was much complaint against the brutality of the police, whose efforts to intimidate negroes carried them beyond bounds. A chartered car carrying fifty men and women was sidetracked at Brookhaven for three days. The man conducting the passengers was arrested, but when no charge was brought against him, he was released.[85]

A Hattiesburg, Mississippi, ticket agent attempted on the advice of citizens to interfere with negroes leaving by refusing to sell tickets. Some one called the attention of the general superintendent to the matter. Thereafter the man was courteous and even assisted the migrants. Police arrested one or two men at the station, and, according to one of the men, made the crowd so angry that they swore they would not stop until all had gone. There are cited further instances of letters to plantation hands which were detained and telegrams which were delayed. At Meridian, Mississippi, a trainload of negroes en route to the North was held up by the chief of police on a technical charge. It is said that the United States marshal arrested him and placed him under heavy bond for delaying the train. The federal authorities were importuned to stop the movement. They withdrew the assistance of the Employment Department, but admitted that they could not stop the interstate migration.[86]

One remarked, however, "It will scarcely be possible, to make a sectional issue of these Columbus convictions, as the charge of 'enticing away of labor' in that country is aimed at certain Arkansas planters who carried away several carloads of negroes to work on their places, leaving the Mississippi employers without the labor to gather or grow their crops. It can not, therefore, be interpreted as an attempt to keep the negro in semislavery in the South and prevent him from going to work at better wages in the northern munition factories; it is only an effort to protect Mississippi employers from Arkansas planters."[87]

The alarm felt over the exodus prompted the mayor of New Orleans to telegraph the president of the Illinois Central Railroad, asking that his road stop carrying negroes to the North. The latter replied that he had viewed with much concern the heavy exodus of negro labor from the South during the past year, and, because of his very important interest in that section, it was not to his advantage to encourage it, but as common carriers, they could not refuse to sell tickets or to provide the necessary transportation. It seemed to him that as long as their friends and kinsmen who had preceded them to the North and East were receiving a high scale of wages, the South would have to look for continued movement.[88]

After having enforced these drastic measures without securing satisfactory results, and having seen that any attempt to hold the negroes by force resulted apparently in an increased determination to leave, there was resort to the policy of frightening the negroes away from the North by circulating rumors as to the misfortunes to be experienced there. Negroes were then warned against the rigors of the northern winter and the death rate from pneumonia and tuberculosis. Social workers in the North reported frequent cases of men with simple colds who actually believed that they had developed "consumption." Speakers who wished to discourage the exodus reported "exact" figures on the death rate of the migrants in the North that were astounding. As, for example, it was said by one Reverend Mr. Parks that there were 2,000 of them sick in Philadelphia. The editor of a leading white paper in Jackson, Mississippi, made the remark that he feared that the result of the first winter's experience in the North would prove serious to the South, in so far as it would remove the bugbear of the northern climate. The returned migrants were encouraged to speak in disparagement of the North and to give wide publicity to their utterances, emphasizing incidents of suffering reported through the press.

When such efforts as these failed, however, the disconcerted planters and business men of the South resorted to another plan. Reconciliation and persuasion were tried. Meetings were held and speakers were secured and advised what to say. In cities and communities where contact on this plane had been infrequent, it was a bit difficult to approach the subject. The press of Georgia gave much space to the discussion of the movement and what ought to be done to stop it. The consensus of opinion of the white papers in the State was that the negro had not been fairly treated, and that better treatment would be one of the most effective means of checking the migration. Mob violence, it was pointed out, was one of the chief causes of the exodus.[89]

The Tifton (Georgia) Gazette commenting on the causes said:

They have allowed negroes to be lynched, five at a time, on nothing stronger than suspicion; they have allowed whole sections to be depopulated of them (notably in several north Georgia counties); they have allowed them to be whitecapped and to be whipped, and their homes burned, with only the weakest and most spasmodic efforts to apprehend or punish those guilty—when any efforts were made at all. Loss of much of the State's best labor is one of the prices Georgia is paying for unchecked mob activity against negroes often charged only with ordinary crimes. Current dispatches from Albany, Georgia, in the center of the section apparently most affected, and where efforts are being made to stop the exodus by spreading correct information among the negroes, say that the heaviest migration of negroes has been from those counties in which there have been the worst outbreaks against negroes. It is developed by investigation that where there have been lynchings, the negroes have been most eager to believe what the emigration agents have told them of plots for the removal or extermination of the race. Comparatively few negroes have left Dougherty county, which is considered significant in view of the fact that this is one of the counties in southwest Georgia in which a lynching has never occurred.

At Thomasville, Georgia, a mass meeting of colored citizens of the town with many from the country was held at the court house and addresses were made by several prominent white men, as well as by several colored with a view to taking some steps in regard to the exodus of negroes from this section to the North and West. The whole sentiment of the meeting was very amicable, the negroes applauding enthusiastically the speeches of the white men and the advice given by them. Resolutions were drawn up by a committee expressing the desire that the people of the two races continue to live together as they have done in the past and that steps be taken to adjust any difference between them.[90]

After a conference of three days at Waycross, Georgia, the negroes came to a decision as to the best manner in which to present their cause to the white people with a view to securing their cooperation towards the improvement of conditions in the South to make that section more habitable. "There are four things of which our people complain," they said, "and this conference urges our white friends to secure for us these things with all possible speed. First, more protection at the hands of the law. We ask that the law of the State, made and enforced by white men, should be made to apply with exact justice to both races. We have no sympathy for criminals, but we ask that the innocent shall be protected to the fullest extent of the law. Second, that more liberal provisions be made for the education of our people." They commended Governor Dorsey for his courageous recommendation in his inaugural address that an agricultural school should be established for negroes in some center in southern Georgia, and asked their friends everywhere to urge the members of the legislature from the various counties to put Governor Dorsey's noble sentiments into law. These memorialists felt, too, that as far as possible, wages should be in keeping with the cost of living, and that the white people generally should take an interest in the general welfare of the negroes.[91]

Tuskegee Institute was also quick to offer a remedy for the migration. In the latter part of September, 1916, the institution made a strong effort to persuade the negro farmers to remain on the land instead of going to the cities. Conferences were held with the bankers of Tuskegee and with many planters of Macon county and a method of dealing with the situation was worked out. This method embraced a number of helpful suggestions as to how to solve their many perplexing problems.[92] At the twenty-sixth annual negro conference at Tuskegee Institute, the institution took that occasion to send through certain declarations a message to the negroes of the South. These declarations recited the distress and suffering impelling the negroes to migrate, expressing the appreciation of the necessity to do something to better their condition by embracing the new opportunities offered them in the North. On the other hand, this institution felt that there were many permanent opportunities for the masses of the colored people in the South, which is now entering upon a great era of development. Among these are the millions of acres of land yet to be cultivated, cities to be built, railroads to be extended and mines to be worked. These memorialists considered it of still greater importance to the negro that in the South they have acquired land, buildings, etc., valued at about five hundred million dollars. The negroes were, therefore, urged to stay on the soil which they owned.

Addressing a word to the white people of the South, the conference said that the disposition of so many of the blacks to leave is not because they do not love the Southland but because they believe that in the North they will not only have more opportunity to get more money but that they will get better treatment, better protection under the law and better school facilities for their children. The conference urged, therefore, that the southern white people avail themselves of their greatest opportunity to cooperate with the blacks in the various communities and have a thorough understanding as to working for the common welfare of all. The delegates believed that the time had come for the best element of the whites and blacks to unite to protect the interests of both races to the end that more effective work may be done in the upbuilding of a greater South.[93]

In the same way the people of Mississippi soon discovered that any attempt forcibly to hold negroes resulted apparently in an increased determination to leave. Nor was it sufficient to warn the negroes against the rigors of the northern winter and the death rate from pneumonia and tuberculosis. In Greenwood, Mississippi, the difficulty was circumvented by using the Red Cross and the food conservation meetings as a forum for the discussion of the movement. This was the first time that the negroes and whites of Greenwood had met to discuss matters of mutual welfare. Bishop W.P. Thirkield of New Orleans addressed a body of negroes and whites on the movement. He suggested that whites get representative colored persons together and find the cause. He also suggested a remedy through better treatment, more wages and more cooperation between the races. Negro ministers stated that they were offered sums of money by bankers, planters and merchants to speak in discouragement of the movement. Some spoke, and others, by far the greater number, seem to have remained neutral.[94]

It was found necessary to increase wages from ten to twenty-five per cent and in some cases as much as 100 per cent to hold labor. The reasons for migration given by negroes were sought. In almost all cases the chief complaint was about treatment. An effort was made to meet this by calling conferences and by giving publicity to the launching of a campaign to make unfair settlements and other such grievances unpopular. Thus, in Bolivar county, Mississippi, a meeting was called, ostensibly to look after the economic welfare of the Delta country, but in reality to develop some plan for holding labor. A subcommittee of seventeen men was appointed to look into the labor situation. There were twelve white men and five negroes. The subcommittee met and reported to the body that the present labor shortage was due to the migration, and that the migration was due to a feeling of insecurity before the law, the unrestrained action of mobs, unfair methods of yearly settlement on farms and inadequate school facilities. As a result of the report, it was agreed to make an appropriation of $25,000 towards an agricultural high school, as a step towards showing an interest in the negroes of Bolivar county and thus give them reasons for remaining. A campaign was started to make unpopular the practice among farmers of robbing negroes of the returns from their labor, and a general effort was made by a few of the leading men behind the movement to create "a better feeling" between the races.[95]

Wide publicity was given to the experiment in plantation government, and the policy was accepted by a number of planters as opportunistic action. Thus, one Mr. Abbott of Natchez, Mississippi, told the planters of his section that good treatment, adequate and sympathetic oversight are the important factors in any effort to hold labor. He made a trip to his farm every week, endeavoring to educate his tenants in modes of right living. Every man on his place had a bank account and was apparently satisfied. This example was presented with the statement that where these methods had been used, few had left. One planter purchased twenty-eight Ford automobiles to sell on easy terms to his tenants with the hope of contenting them.

The newspapers published numerous letters from southern negro leaders urging negroes to consider well their step, asserting that the South is the best place for them and that the southern white man knows them and will in consequence be more lenient with their shortcomings. The papers further urged an increase in wages and better treatment. Wherever possible, there were published articles which pointed to the material prosperity of negroes in the South. For example, a writer of Greenville, said of negroes' loyalty in 1917:

The prosperity as well as the patriotism of the negro farmer has been shown in the purchase of Liberty Bonds in the Delta. Many colored farm laborers subscribed for bonds. Every family on the place of Planter C.D. Walcott, near Hollandale, took a bond, while one negro, Boley Cox, a renter, bought bonds to the amount of $1,000 and gave his check for the total amount out of the savings of this year from his crop and still has cotton to sell. There are negro families on Delta plantations making more money this year than the salary of the governor of the State.

When migrants could be induced to talk freely, they complained also against the treatment in the courts. Some of the cities consequently are known to have suspended their raids and arrests on petty charges. In some instances the attempts at pacification reached almost incredible bounds. For example, a negro missed connection with his train through the fault of the railroad. His white friend advised him to bring suit. This he did and urged as his principal grievance that he was stranded in a strange town and was forced to sleep in quarters wholly at the mercy of bed bugs. It is said that he was awarded damages to the extent of $800. A Jackson, Mississippi, daily paper that had been running a column of humorous incidents about negroes taken from the daily court sessions, which was very distasteful to the colored people of the city, discontinued it. Such methods as these have been the only ones to prove effective in bringing about an appreciable stem in the tide. With the advent of the United States Government constructing cantonments and establishing manufacturing plants in the South, the millions thus diverted to that section have caused such an increase in wages that the movement has been decidedly checked.

[Footnote 77: Work, Report on the Migration from Florida.]

[Footnote 78: Atlantic Constitution, November 1, 1916.]

[Footnote 79: Work, Report on the Migration from Georgia.]

[Footnote 80: Ibid.]

[Footnote 81: Work, Report on the Migration from Georgia.]

[Footnote 82: Work, Report on the Migration from Georgia.]

[Footnote 83: Work, Report on the Migration from Alabama.]

[Footnote 84: Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]

[Footnote 85: Ibid.]

[Footnote 86: Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]

[Footnote 87: Times Picayune, New Orleans. October 1, 1916.]

[Footnote 88: Work, Report on the Migration from Louisiana.]

[Footnote 89: Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]

[Footnote 90: Atlanta Constitution, June 1, 1917.]

[Footnote 91: I.D. Davis served as president of the conference and J.B. Ellis as secretary. Former Superior Court Judge T.A. Parker and V.L. Stanton, president of the Chamber of Commerce, were among the prominent white people who attended. It was the sense of the conference that the colored people as a race should do all in their power in the present crisis to assist the government and, above all else, to help themselves by conserving food. The president of the conference said the colored people had to work harder than ever before with so many problems confronting their country. "It is no time for loafing," he said, "we must work early and late, and make our work count."—Savannah Morning News, July 18, 1917.]

[Footnote 92: The suggestions were: to encourage the farmer to plant peanuts, soy beans, velvet beans and cotton as cash crops; to create a cash market for such crops named above as at present have no cash market; to encourage tenants to grow fall and winter gardens and to plant at least five acres of oats to the plow, seed being furnished when necessary; to stipulate, in making tenant contracts for another year, that cotton stalks be plowed under in the fall, that special methods of combating the boll weevil be used. To advance no more than $25 to the plow, and, in every case possible, to refrain from any advance; to encourage land holders to rent land for part of the crops grown; to urge the exercise of leniency on unpaid notes and mortgages due from thrifty and industrious farmers so as to give them a chance to recover from the boll weevil conditions and storm losses; to create a market lasting all year for such crops as hay, cow-peas, sweet potatoes, poultry and live stock; to urge everybody to build fences and make pastures so as to grow more live stock and to produce more nearly all of the supplies used on the farm; to carry on a food campaign in the country, devoting the first Sunday in October to the work of urging the people to plant gardens and sow oats, and to organize a Farmers' Loan Association in Macon county to work with the Farmers' Loan Bank being established by the United States Government.]

[Footnote 93: Report of the Twenty-sixth Annual Negro Conference at Tuskegee Institute.]

[Footnote 94: Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]

[Footnote 95: Johnson, Report on the Migration from Mississippi.]



The first changes wrought by this migration were unusually startling. Homes found themselves without servants, factories could not operate because of the lack of labor, farmers were unable to secure laborers to harvest their crops. Streets in towns and cities once crowded assumed the aspect of deserted thoroughfares, houses in congested districts became empty, churches, lodges and societies suffered such a large loss of membership that they had to close up or undergo reorganization.

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