The Southern Diaspora

How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America

by James N. Gregory

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The Southern Diaspora  may have been the most momentous American population movement of the twentieth century. Between 1900 and 1980 more than 20 million  southerners left their home region looking for jobs in the cities, suburbs, and farms of the North and West. Most visible were the African American southerners whose migration transformed urban America and set the stage for important changes in racial understandings and the rights of people of color. White southern migrants outnumbered black migrants and in some settings were almost as controversial. Called "hillbillies"  in the North and "Okies" out  West, the whites faced challenges different than most Americans who move across state lines.

This site introduces the history of the Southern Diaspora and serves as a companion to the prize-winning book by James N. Gregory, The Southern Diaspora: How The Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America (University of North Carolina Press,  2005)  

Historians usually separate the stories of the Great Migration of black southerners from the Dust Bowl and Appalachian migrations of whites. The Southern Diaspora brings them together to show the connections and differences.

Here you will find information about the experiences of migrating southerners of both races. You will also find information on the impact and legacy of the dual migrations.

The Southern Diaspora transformed American religion, spreading Baptist and Pentecostal churches and reinvigorating evangelical Protestantism, both black and white versions.

The Southern Diaspora transformed American popular culture, especially music. The development of Blues, Jazz, Gospel, and R&B  and the development of Hillbilly and Country Music all depended on the southern migrants.

The Southern Diaspora enabled the transformations in politics and culture that set up the Civil Rights era. Black southerners in the great cities of the North and West developed institutions and political practice that resulted in momentous changes in the system of race and rights.

The Southern Diaspora also helped reshape American conservatism, contributing to new forms of white working-class and suburban white politics, especially since the 1960s. Indeed most of  great political realignments of the second half of the twentieth century had something to do with the population movements out of the South.

These and other arguments are developed in the new book, The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America.

This web site can be used in two  ways. As a companion to the book,  it provides supplemental materials, including photos, graphs and tables, and bibliography

If you are new to the subject and want to learn more about the experiences of southern migrants and the many dimensions of the Southern Diaspora, start by reading the Preface and Introduction to the book. Then examine the photo essay on the two Great Migrations. You will also find links to interviews and other web pages that deal with important aspects of the Diaspora.



James N. Gregory
Department of History
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195

The two great migrations have been the subject of great art and literature, including classic novels by Richard Wright, Harriette Arnow, Ralph Ellison, and John Steinbeck and classic paintings by Jacob Lawrence and photographs by Dorothea Lange. Click here to learn more about diaspora art and literature.


The Diaspora played a key role in the creation and dissemination of Blues, Jazz, Gospel, Rock,Soul, Hillbilly, and Country Music. Aretha Franklin and Merle Haggard were both children of the Diaspora, one raised in Detroit, the other in Bakersfield after their parents left the South


This page was last updated on 09/19/07.