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War I opened the first significant opportunities for black Americans
in Northern cities and as a consequence 500,000 African-Americans
moved out of the South between 1916 and 1920, initiating a rural
to urban black exodus which continued virtually uninterrupted
until the 1970s. The vignettes in this chapter explain the Great
Migration and its consequences for black and urban America.
The vignettes Why They Leave the South and Black Southerners
Explain the Exodus suggest the various reasons for the 'push'
from the South. The Great Migration: One Black Family Moves
North views the migration through the experience of a "typical"
family while Charles Denby Describes His Work discuses the experiences
of one man in a Detroit automobile factory. Greeting African
American Newcomers to Detroit, 1917 profiles the efforts of
the Detroit Urban League to assist the newcomers in adjusting
to their new home. East St. Louis: An American Pogrom reminds
us that competition for jobs exacerbated racial tension and
in this instance led to a bloody race riot. In Big Bill Thompson
and the Black Vote we see the growth of political power in the
North. At the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War I,
W.E .B. DuBois penned an editorial in the NAACP publication,
The Crisis titled “Close Ranks” in which he urged
African Americans to put aside their racial grievances and support
fully the nation’s efforts in World War I. When that full
support was greeted with continuing racial discrimination and
in fact an escalation of violence against African Americans
in and out of uniform, DuBois responded with “We Return
Fighting.” Both vignettes appear in this volume. The Chicago
Race Riot of 1919 was the largest 20th Century racial clash
in the city. The vignettes The Chicago Defender Describes the
Race Riot details the violence as it unfolded in the city while
The Chicago Commission on Race Relations Explains the Riot of
1919 provides the first official explanation of a racial confrontation
and in the process, established a pattern that would be followed
throughout the rest of the century. Sweet Home, Chicago discusses
the ongoing discrimination in housing against the backdrop of
the riot and suggests why such discrimination would ultimately
fail. Finally, in Mary McLeod Bethune: The Problem of the City
Dweller, we see a political activist and college founder and
president describing the challenges awaiting those who migrate
to the city.
WHY THEY LEAVE THE SOUTH
In the brief article below titled “Why
they Leave the South: The Lynching Record for 1916,” the
Chicago Defender reminds all that the migration is driven not
only by increased economic opportunity in the North. Lynching
and other forms of racially motivated violence that remained
common well into the second decade of the 20th Century also
persuaded African Americans to move to Northern cities.
In view of the widespread discussion of the
causes back of the migration of Negroes to the North it is timely
to consider the lynchings for the year just closed. I find according
to the records kept by Monroe N. Work, head of the Division
of Records and Research of the Tuskegee Institute, that in 1916
there have been 54 lynchings. Of those lynched, 50 were Negroes
and 4 were whites. This is 4 less Negroes and 9 less whites
than were put to death in 1915 when the record was 54 Negroes
and 13 whites. Included in the record are 3 women.
Fourteen (14) or more than one-fourth of
the total lynchings occurred in the State of Georgia. Of those
put to death 42, or 77 per cent of the total, were charged with
offenses other than rape. The charges for which whites were
lynched were murder, 3; suspected of cutting a woman, 1 (this
The charges for which Negroes were put to
death were attempted rape, 9; killing officers of the law, 10;
murder, 7; hog stealing and assisting another person to escape,
6; wounding officers of the law, 4; rape, 3; insult, 2; for
each of the following offenses one person was put to death:
Slapping boy; robbing store; brushing against girl on the street;
assisting his son, accused of rape, to escape; entering a house
for robbery or some other purpose; defending her son, who in
defense of mother, killed man; fatally wounding a man with whom
he had quarreled; speaking against mob in act of putting a man
to death; attacking a man and wife with club.
Lynchings occurred in the following states:
Alabama, 1; Arkansas, 4; Florida, 8; Georgia, 14; Kansas, 1;
Kentucky, 2; Louisiana, 2; Mississippi, 1; Missouri, 1, North
Carolina, 2; Oklahoma, 4; South Carolina, 2; Tennessee, 3; Texas,
Source: The Chicago Defender, January 6, 1917,
BLACK SOUTHERNERS EXPLAIN THE EXODUS
Between 1916 and 1920 nearly 400,000 Afro
Americans migrated from Southern farms to Northern cities. Before
leaving many of them wrote the Chicago Defender and other Northern
newspapers requesting support and assistance. Some of these
letters are is reprinted below.
Pensacola, Fla., 4-21-17
Sir: You will please give us the names of
the firms where we can secure employment. Also please explain
the Great Northern Drive for May 15th. Wee will come by the
thousands. Some of us like farm work. The colored people will
leave if you will assist them. P. 331
Mobile, Ala., April 25, 1917
Dear Sir: I was reading in the paper about
the Colored race and while reading it I seen in ti where cams
would be here for the 15th of May… Will you be so kind
as to let me know where they are coming to and I will be glad
to know because I am a poor woman and have a husband and five
children living and three dead… [M]y husband can hardly
make bread for them in Mobile. This is my native home but it
is not fit to live…. Will you please let me know when
the cars is going to stop to so that he can come where he can
take care of me and my children…. Hoping to hear from
you soon, your needed and worried friend. (p. 332)
New Orleans, La., 4-23-17
Dear Editor: I am a reader of the Defender
and I am askeso [sic] much about the great Norther drive on
the 15th of May. We want more understanding about it for [when
we ask] the depot agents never gives us any satisfaction…for
they don’t want us to leave her. I want to ask you to
please publish iin your next Saturdays paper just what the fair
[sic] will be that day so we all will know & and can be
ready. So many women here are wanting to go that day. They are
all working women and we cant get work here so much now, the
white women tell us we just want to make money to go North and
we do so please kindly answer this in your next paper…
New Orleans, La., May 2, 1917
Dear Sir: Please sir, will you kindly tell
me what is meant by the Great Northern Drive to take place May
the 15th, on Tuesday. It is a rumor all over town to be ready
for the 15th of May to go in the drive...Do please write me
at once and say is there an excursion to leave the South. Nearly
the whole of the South is ready for the drive. Or excursion
as it is termed. Please write at once. We are sick to get out
of the South.
Source: Emmett J. Scott, “Letters of
Negro Migrants of 1916-1918,” Journal of Negro History
4:3 (July 1919):331-334
THE GREAT MIGRATION: ONE BLACK FAMILY MOVES NORTH
In this account from William Tuttle's 1970
book on the 1919 Chicago Race Riot, we see one family's harrowing
account of their train ride to Chicago in 1916.
One 1916 migrant to Chicago was Sot Pinckney. A sharecropper,
Pinckney farmed with his own family and 300 others on a 2,000
acre Mississippi planta¬tion. "We were never paid money,"
he later recalled, "only credit at the Commissary."
Naturally he had thought about leaving the
plantation and Mississippi, but because of the size of his family
(a wife and six children) and because of the surveillance of
the overseers and guards ("they wouldn't let us go anywhere
except to work...."), he had become resigned to living
out the rest of his years there. But in the autumn of 1916 "a
newcomer" working in one of the cotton gins approached
him and asked: "How would you like to leave this plantation
and go up north and make some money?" Fearful that they
might be overheard, Pinckney quickly replied: "You are
either drunk or just a plain, simple, damn fool."
That evening, however, the stranger visited
his shack, and Pinckney and his wife agreed to leave for the
North if the stranger could suggest a way to escape. But Pinckney
asked, "How are we to get by the guard at the 'Big Gate'?"
The next morning Pinckney followed the stranger's instructions
and asked the overseer for permission for his family to leave
the plantation "so we could see a circus which we heard
would be in town" on Saturday. The overseer looked at Pinckney
with "a squinting, suspicious expression in his eyes,"
but he finally consented. The stranger had persuaded other families
to request permission, and they, too, were issued passes to
show the guards at the "Big Gate."
"We all left walking Friday night
about midnight," each family having with it only a meager
amount of personal belongings "lest we arouse suspicion
and jeopardize our chances of escape." Waiting a mile away
at "the little state on the branch track" was something
that Pinckney and his family had never seen before a train.
They boarded it, and about 5:30 felt it lurch and then creep
forward, "as if to make less noise as possible; gradually
picking up more and more speed after it had reached the main
Occasionally the train would jerk to a stop,
but Pinckney and his family did "not know what station
it was, as we were not allowed to look outside the train, or
even raise the window blinds until the train had crossed the
Mason and Dixon line." But even before it had left Mississippi,
each car in the train was "packed to every available foot
of ... space," and thus jammed together the migrants traveled
to Chicago. Employment was awaiting Pinckney at the stockyards.
The stranger probably profited as well as the workers, for he
was doubtless a labor agent for Northern industries.
Source: William M. Tuttle, Jr., Race Riot,
(New York, 1970), pp. 77 78.
CHARLES DENBY DESCRIBES HIS WORK
Alabama-born Charles Denby migrated to Detroit
in 1924. In the following account he describes his first job
at Graham Paige, an independent auto manufacturing company.
My first job at Graham Paige was in the foundry shaking out
the oil pan that fits under the motor.... I was very much surprised
when I was hired. I asked the man if there were any jobs. He
said, yes. I told him I preferred somewhere else when he told
me to work in the foundry. I had worked in a foundry in Anniston
[Alabama]. I knew what the work was like. He said there were
no other jobs open. When white men came he told them about other
jobs and hired them.... How could he say, to my face there were
no other jobs when he told a white man ahead of me about polishing
and put another in the carpentry shop....They led us out to
see where we would come to work the next morning.
As I looked around, all the men were dirty and greasy and smoked
up. They were beyond recognition. There were only three or four
whites. These were Polish. Negroes told me later they were the
only ones able to stand the work. Their faces looked exactly
like Negro faces. They were so matted and covered with oil and
dirt that no skin showed. Hines [his friend] and I went home
discussing how it was that they could say everyone was free
with equal rights up North. There was no one in the foundry
At the end of the week they said we'd get
no pay the first week. They held it in what they called abeyance.
The job was very rugged. I had to work continuously, as fast
as I could move. The heat from the cubulos, which were round
furnaces for melting the iron, was so hot that in five minutes
my clothes would stick with dirt and grease. We'd walk through
on our lunch period to talk to a friend. We couldn't recognize
him by his clothes or looks. The men working in his section
would tell us where he was or we could tell a friend by his
My job paid five dollars a day. The first foreman was quiet,
he didn't doe much raring or hollering like the other foremen.
They would curse and holler. They would pay us off right there
if we looked back or stopped working. Workers passed out from
the heat. The foremen rushed a stretcher over and two workers
would take the man out, give him fifteen minutes to revive and
then he would have to go back to work. When a man passed out,
the foreman would be running out to see if the guy was conscious.
He would be cursing all the time..... They never mentioned a
wound serious enough to go to first aid. Workers would get a
layer of iron from the cubulo, bring it to the iron pourers,
fifteen to twenty men with long ladles. These would be filled
with hot iron running like water. As their ladles filled up,
the men had to straighten their arms out level and pour the
iron down a little hole the size of a milk bottle. All the time
they had to turn slow, like a machine. If they poured too fast,
the iron would explode the mold and burn the other men. The
iron would drop on a wet spot and hit the men like a bullet
and go into the skin. The man getting hit still had to hold
the ladling iron level to keep from burning the other men. The
would wait their chance to pick out the balls of iron, and sometimes
the foreman picked it out as the men went on working.
Source: Charles Denby, Indignant Heart: The
Journal of An Afro-American Automobile Worker, (London, 1979),
pp. 33, 30.
GREETING AFRICAN AMERICAN NEWCOMERS TO DETROIT, 1917
Between 1916 and 1917 approximately 30,000
African Americans moved to Detroit. When the 1920 census was
taken three years later these migrants comprised 75% of the
city’s African American population. In percentage terms
Detroit had one of the largest increases in the nation. In 1917
Forrester B. Washington, Executive Director of the Detroit Urban
League, described in an article for The Survey both the unprecedented
migration of African Americans to the Motor City and the various
programs of his organization and others to smooth their entry
into the city. Part of that article appears below.
During the past twelve months the colored popu¬lation of
Detroit has increased by about 100 per cent through migration.
The experience of this city in the absorption of this large
new population of Negro citizens and the program of work for
its assimila¬tion…may be of use to other communities
which face a similar problem. The subject may, perhaps, best
be considered under the separate headings of employment, housing,
recreation, crime prevention, cooperation and aids to efficiency.
The first prerequisite in the task of organizing
a local community is the establishment of a vocational bureau.
In the past, when labor agencies brought the majority of Negroes
who came north, the problem of employment was simple. They were
assured of jobs before they arrived. But now the majority of
immigrants come without such inducement. They come in larger
numbers and at all times of the year, when the demand for labor
is strong and when it is slack. More¬over, the majority
come knowing nothing of the city which is to be their home and
unacquainted with any of its citizens. Impossible as it may
seem, it is not uncommon for factories in one part of the city
to be crying for labor while many of these strange Negroes wander
about other parts of the city unable to find employment. This
situation is fraught with danger because in a few days idling
about the city in search of a job the immigrant may come into
contact with conditions and peo¬ple whose influence is demoralizing
and may destroy his chance of ever becoming a useful citizen.
The immigrant needs more bolstering up in the first week than
at any future time. Un¬til he gets his first pay at the
end of two weeks, he finds it difficult to get anybody to trust
him. He is apt to become a charity seeker and a dependent.
…The Detroit League on Urban Conditions
among Negroes, therefore, has not been content merely with locating
vacant jobs but has approached manufacturers of all kinds through
distribution of literature and personal visits and has been
successful during the last twelve months in placing 1,000 Negroes
in employment other than unskilled labor. It has made itself
known to immigrants by cards of direction placed in the hands
of Negro employees about railway stations and intends, as soon
as its funds permit, to station a capable, level headed representative
at each of the railway stations of Detroit to direct Negro immigrants
to the league's office or to other responsible individuals and
so¬cieties who will look after their welfare. It has persuaded
the proprietor of a local moving picture theater, which is a
great gathering place for colored newcomers, to run lantern
slides nightly announcing that employment and other serv¬iced
can be secured free at the office of the league.
In order to care for the women and girls who
are beginning to appear in appreciable numbers, five cigar manufacturers
in the city were induced to experiment in employing them, and
a sixth has started a new plant employing only colored help.
To solve the difficult problem of the first week's board, the
league has arranged with certain factories a system of checks
issued to guarantee payment for bills incurred at res¬taurants
and boarding houses. Some direct arrangements pre¬viously
made between certain factories and boarding house keepers resulted
in exploitation of the immigrant by the latter.
The establishment of a bureau of investigation
and in¬formation regarding housing comes next in importance.
The character of the houses into which Negro immigrants go has
a direct effect on their health, their morals and their effi¬ciency.
The rents charged determine whether the higher wages received
in the North are real or only apparent, wheth¬er the change
in environment has been beneficial or detri¬mental. The
tendency is to exploit the Negro immigrant in this particular.
Rents charged him in Detroit have risen by from 50 to 200 per
cent in one year. He is forced into a dis¬trict inhabited
by colored people where housing accommoda¬tion is inadequate
for those already there. The proximity of the colored district
in most northern cities to the center is responsible for the
imposition of the vice district upon the Negro. This bureau
should, therefore, scour the city for every available house,
tenement or room inside or outside the recognized Negro district.
It should make also a thorough investigation of comparative
rents charged Negroes and whites and give the findings the fullest
publicity. The bureau should constantly remind employers of
Negro labor that it is to their advantage to see that the Negro
is well housed and that, if nobody else will build, it is good
business for them to do so…
With the shorter working hours, recreation
is more important for the Negro in the North than in the South.
On the other hand, he is beset by many vicious attractions entirely
new to him, and there is not the restraining influence of his
family, friends and those that know him. I am sorry say, but
it is true, he does not receive a warm welcome fro the great
majority of colored citizens of the better class in the city
to which he migrates. While they try to decide whether his coming
is a benefit or an injury to them, he gets a royal welcome from
another element of the Negro community--the saloon keeper, the
pool room proprietor, the owner of [the] gambling club and disorderly
The only way to counteract these vicious influences
is provide the immigrant Negro with wholesome recreation that
will satisfy his natural instinct for active amusement and society
of his own kind. This is no simple affair and be met by existing
institutions in only a few cities. The hard working laborer
recently from a rural section of Alabama cannot be attracted
away from saloon or pool room with art lectures or literary
forums or even the facilities of the average Y. M. C. A. The
first demand he makes of recreation is that it be active and
practical, to a certain extent primitive. If he does not get
it under wholesome conditions, he will seek it under evil ones.
The Detroit league some time ago inaugurated
a ten-cent newcomers’ community dance, held every Tuesday
in a pub school in the heart of the Negro district. A Young
Negro Progressive Association, developed by the league, has
helped in promoting this dance as well as in all other plans
for adjusting the newcomers to the city. A committee of the
association handed printed cards about the street where most
the immigrants collect and placed them in the hands of newcomers,
inviting them to the community dance, where another committee
welcomes them- the rougher the type, the heartier the welcome.
This committee also introduces the newcomer to the more desirable
people present who have been longer in Detroit...
The league also develops athletic features
for the immigrants, especially basket ball. The first colored
basket-ball team, not a member of which was a native of Detroit,
last winter played against strong white teams and lost only
one game. It has played against colored teams as far away as
Camp fire girls, mostly the children of newcomers,
also have been organized. There are only twenty one regular
members -the regulations do not permit a larger number in one
camp. All the expenses for these girls, such as rent, re¬freshments,
etc., are paid by the Young Negroes’ Progressive Association
from the proceeds of the community dance. It is very encouraging
to find these young men take upon them¬selves the responsibility
of providing decent recreation for young girls of their own
A department for the suppression of crime
is necessary in a program for the assimilation of the Negro
immigrant. The increased crime among Negroes has had two bad
results: it has made both white and native colored citizens
believe that the southern Negro is more criminal by nature than
his north¬ern brother; and it has created a general distrust
against all Negroes. The assistance of the local police should
be so¬licited from the outset. It should be impressed upon
them that they must not, as they are prone to do, let matters
go from bad to worse in a colored community until conditions
are so acute that drastic and unusual measures are necessary.
The appointment of colored detectives should be urged to filter
from the community as soon as possible the inevitable floaters,
crooks, bums and adventurers who are parts of every hegira.
The league has persuaded the police commissioner
to appoint a special officer, selected by the league, to work
entirely with the newcomers. It is his duty to mingle with crowds
on the streets where the newcomers congregate and urge them
not to make a nuisance of themselves by blockading sidewalks,
bois¬terous behavior and the like. He is also provided with
cards directing newcomers to the office of the league when in
need of employment. The league itself keeps a close watch on
the Negro underworld of Detroit and immediately apprises the
police when dives are developed especially to prey on the immigrant.
Much strength can he added to the program
and much energy saved by enlisting the aid of every possible
organiza¬tion in the city whose functions can in any way
be construed as touching on Negro migration. The urban league
found the Board of Commerce exceedingly willing to cooperate
in a movement for the investigation and improvement of working
conditions of Negro employes [sic] in the various manufacturing
plants in the city. The Board of Health gave considerable assistance
in obtaining better and more sanitary housing con¬ditions.
The aid of several mothers' clubs among the colored women was
enlisted to instruct immigrant mothers in the proper diet and
clothing for children in a northern cli¬mate. From the outset,
the aim was not only to put each im¬migrant in a decent
home but also to connect him with some church. Many times the
churches have reciprocated with considerable material as well
as spiritual assistance.
But the greatest cooperation received has
been that of the Young Negroes’ Progressive Association
to which reference has already been made. This is a body of
thirty four young colored men, most of them attending the various
schools and colleges about Detroit. They have been the finest
possible agent in the development of all the different activities…
Source: Forrester B. Washington, “The
Detroit Newcomers’ Greeting,” The Survey 33 (July
14, 1917), 333-335.
EAST ST. LOUIS, 1917: AN AMERICAN POGROM
Oscar Leonard, Superintendent of The Jewish
Educational and Charitable Association of St. Louis, writing
about the East St. Louis Riot of 1917 called it an American
pogrom. His account appears below.
TWO days before the nation was to celebrate
the signing of the Declaration of Independence with its recognition
that "all men are created free and equal" came the
news that in East St. Louis Negroes were being slaughtered and
their homes pillaged and burned by white Americans. East St.
Louis…is an industrial town cross the Mississippi [from
St. Louis]. It is part of the state which gave us Abraham Lincoln.
This circumstance made the “pogrom" upon the Negroes
more tragic. They were being murdered mercilessly in a state
which had fought for their freedom from slavery. They were forced
to seek refuge and safety across the river in Missouri, which
was a slave state at one time.
I just called the riot a "pogrom,"
the name by which Rus¬sian massacres of Jews has become
known. Yet when I went to East St. Louis to view the sections
where the riots had taken place, I was informed that the makers
of Russian pogroms could learn a great deal from the American
rioters. I went there in the company of a young Russian Jew,
a sculptor, who had witnessed and bears the marks of more than
one anti-Jewish riot in his native land. He told me when he
viewed the blocks of burned houses that the Russian "Black
Hundreds" could take lessons in pogrom-making from the
whites of East St. Louis. The Russians at least, he said, gave
the Jews a chance to run while they were trying to murder them.
The whites in East St. Louis fired the homes of black folk and
either did not allow them to leave the burning houses or shot
them the moment they dared attempt to escape the flames.
What is the reason for this terrible situation?
Fundamentally, the reason is purely economic.
It is not rather the white people in Illinois, or rather in
East St. Louis, have any terrible hatred for the Negro. The
two races go to the same schools. The laws of Illinois even
permit inter¬marriage between whites and blacks. Negroes
hold state, county and municipal offices. They own a great dear
of prop¬erty in the state and in the city where the riots
took place. But being the most disinherited of men, Negroes
at times work for lower wages than do whites. Some of them will
not join labor unions and most of them would not be ad¬mitted
if they cared to join.
This condition is extremely objectionable
to the white workers with whom they compete for jobs. But this
very fact makes the Negro laborer more attractive, to employers
who want labor at the cheapest possible terms. They favor any
labor force that will not join unions, that will not strike,
that will not make periodic demands for increased wages or shorter
workdays. Such an element introduced into the com¬munity
acts as a whip over the heads of the white workers. Employers
know that. Laboring people are, painfully aware of it. This
is the main reason for the race antipathy in East St. Louis,
as I judge from talking to business men, laborers, professional
men and labor leaders.
East St. Louis is what Graham Romeyn Taylor called a "satellite
city." It is not. a city of homes in the American acceptance
of that term. It is a manufacturing town where industries locate
because land is cheap, transportation facili¬ties good,
coal and water near and cheap. The many factories make the place
unattractive for home-building. Capi¬tal goes there simply
in search of dividends. It. Isn’t in¬terested in the
welfare of the city or of the workers who help make those dividends.
Only those who must, live there. Those who can live in St. Louis,
while working in East St. Louis, do so.
The result is that the city is run to suit
the lowest political elements. The foreign laborers who were
imported by the industries in East St. Louis know nothing of
American stand¬ards. There is practically no social work
being done in that city which boasts a population of 100,000
souls. Saloons are numerous and gambling dens abound. They run
wide open… One can not visit East St. Louis without seeing
at a glance that saloons are more numerous than the schools
and churches. That in itself would indicate how much control
the liquor interests have over the city.
This, too, has helped bring about the situation
which re¬sulted in the massacre of Negroes both May 28 and
July). The undesirable Negro element, like the undesirable white
element, was used by self-seeking politicians. In order to be
able to control that element the politicians had to make concessions.
Evil dives were permitted. Lawless Negroes were protected. All
too frequently the St. Louis papers re¬ported outrages committed
upon white women by Negroes in East St. Louis. There were robberies
and stabbings and shootings of white men at frequent intervals.
Yet criminals were not punished. They were "taken care
of." This helped stir the ill will of the better element
among the white population.
The employers insist that they do not encourage
immigration and absolutely deny that they import Negroes. They
insist that there are not enough white workers to take the jobs.
They point to the fact that since the Negro left East St. Louis,
on July 2 and that entire week, four industries have entirely
shut down. When asked why it is that Negroes do come in such
large numbers to East St. Louis they say that the lure of better
wages than the South pays attracts them.
R. F. Rucker, superintendent of the aluminum
ore says that the employers were glad to employ Negroes when
there were not enough white workers to fill the jobs. According
to him, many of the white workers went east to take employment
in munitions factories… Some Negroes who had come voluntarily
from the South were given their places. These men wrote home
of the fine opportunities for employment at high wages and urged
their friends to come to East St. Louis.
…Feeling against the Negroes was stirred
constantly. Here and there personal encounters between the two
races took place. Sunday evening, July 1, a rumor was spread
that the Negroes had gathered in one of their churches to plan
revenge upon the white population. A number of policemen in
charge of Detective Sergeant Coopedge drove over to the church.
As they approached the place they were fired upon by Negroes
and Coopedge was killed. The same night a policeman and two
other white men were shot by Negroes.
These deeds acted as a match applied to powder.
Monday morning it was apparent that there would be trouble.
Mayor Mollman said he tried to prepare for it. East St. Louis
has just thirty six policemen. The mayor says that he spoke
personally to them, urging them to do their duty. They were
not inclined to interfere because their comrades had been shot.
The deputy sheriffs felt the same way. Some militiamen were
in town, but according to all accounts the militia fraternized
with the white population. The mayor was urged to call up the
governor and ask for reinforcements and for a declaration of
martial law. He refused to do so. His opponents say that he
had political reasons for his failure to act.
Be that as it may, the fact remains that through
someone's negligence, black men and women and children were
murdered wantonly. In the seven Negro districts of the city
fires were started at the same time. Negroes were hanged and
stoned and shot and kicked. White women and boys as well as
men took part. A black skin was a death warrant on the streets
of this Illinois city. How many black persons were killed will
never be known...
According to eye witnesses, many Negroes must
have been burned in their homes so that no remains will be found.
It is believed that one hundred Negroes who took refuge in an
old theater in one of their sections were burned when the building
was set on fire. I saw that building, of which only part of
one wall was left.
It was a distressing sight to see block after
block where peaceful homes had been located burned to the ground.
The innocent suffered with the guilty. Thrifty black folk, who
were doing their bit by raising vegetables, were murdered. I
saw the ruins of their homes, into which had gone the labor
and savings of years. The little thrift gardens had escaped
the flames and the orderly rows where seeds had been planted
gave the plots the appearance of miniature graveyards.
Source: Oscar Leonard, “The East St.
Louis Pogrom,” The Survey 33 (July 14, 1917), 331-333.
BIG BILL THOMPSON AND THE BLACK VOTE
The benefits of the great migration were usually
felt first at the ballot box. Northern states allowed African
Americans to vote and soon some politicians, recognizing the
potential in the votes of the southern migrants began to organize
in black communities. Nowhere was that organization more successful
than in Chicago. With the help of a Republican political machine
headed by Chicago mayor William Hale "Big" Bill Thompson,
blacks became, and remain a political force in Illinois elections.
The vignette below announces Thompson’s election and the
role the black vote played in it.
“NEGROES ELECT ‘BIG BILL’”
MAYOR IS WINNER IN HARD FIGHT
Mayor Thompson was re-elected today by such
a narrow margin that it was [fill in] that big lead given him
over his principal rivals, Robert M. Sweitzer and Maclay Hoyne,
by the negroes in the Second ward gave him the victory. The
German wards also helped to re-elect the mayor. Thompson’s
lead is between 9,000 and 12,000.
Returns from the Second ward were held back under orders to
the police until it was seen how many votes the mayor needed.
Then they were gradually permitted to sift through and the Thompson
stock which had been going down as a result of bulletins from
other wards, began to climb and cheer came to the city hall
The negroes were in a frenzy of delight when they learned that
their votes had put “Big Bill” in the mayor’s
chair for another four years. South State street, South Wabash
avenue and the other thoroughfares in the district witnessed
a demonstration of hilarity seldom seen on an election night.
Because the early returns were held up by the police on the
orders of Chief Garrity, the figures indicated the election
of Sweitzer. Later returns, however, showed that the race was
close and the figures from 1,500 precincts gave the lead to
Thompson supporters staged a wild celebration all over the city
when the result was made known. When a newspaper bulletin, predicting
Thompson’s election by 8,000 to 12,000 majority, was received,
the mayor smiled picked up the telephone and called his wife.
He read the bulletin to her and said, “They give it up.”
He declined to make a further statement at the time.
Mr. Sweitzer mowed down the pluralities given Mayor Thompson
in the heavy republican strongholds four years ago, but did
not reduce them enough to give him the lead he had expected.
Sweitzer, the returns showed, also was aided by the vote given
to Hoyne in the republican wards. Mr. Hoyne’s vote in
these wards was not surprising, however, as republican leaders
were openly working for him. Hoyne failed to show any strength
in the democratic wards and ran a poor third.
Mayor Thompson’s plurality in 2,005 precincts out of the
2,215 in the city was 12,921. When the mayor was informed of
the vote which had been cast he issued the following statement:
“Truth and justice have again prevailed. The voters have
rendered the verdict. In spite of the malevolent attacks made
upon me by the interests which seek to prey upon the people,
my administration has been approved by the people. This republican
victory in Chicago is also a proclamation to the nation that
our people have turned unmistakably to the republican party
for deliverance from the ills and burdens of national democratic
misrule. This victory today should inspire the republicans of
the nation to begin at once the world which will insuer [sic]
the election of a republican president next year. It was a vote
of confidence in the republican party and a spoken desire of
this great industrial community to return to the sane and safe
policies of our city, under which the nation has always been
prosperous and happy. To those men and women who, have been
so loyal in their support of my candidacy I wish to tender my
grateful and appreciative thanks. I shall continue to conduct
myself so they may always be proud of this expression of continued
Source: The Chicago Daily Journal 1 April
1919, p. 1.
In the editorial below, W.E.B. DuBois calls
for African Americans to support the United States in the World
War I war effort despite denials of their civil rights at home.
He was widely criticized for not using this opportunity to remind
the nation of its injustice to demand the end of racial discrimination.
His editorial appears below.
This is the crisis of the world. For all
the long years to come men will point to the year 1918 as the
great day of decision, the day when the world decided whether
it would submit to military despotism and an endless armed peace—if
peace it could be called—or whether they would put down
the menace of German militarism and inaugurate the United States
of the World.
We of the colored race have no ordinary interest in the outcome.
That which the German power represents today spells death to
the aspirations of Negroes and all darker races for equality,
freedom, and democracy. Let us not hesitate. Let us, while this
war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks
shoulder to shoulder with our own white fellow-citizens and
the allied nations that are fighting for democracy. We make
no ordinary sacrifice, but we make it gladly and willingly with
our eyes lifted to the hills.
Source: The Crisis, Vol. 16, No. 3 (July 1918)
W.E.B. DuBois recouped credibility and reestablished
himself at the forefront of black protest with his editorial
"Returning Soldiers." The editorial, however, was
more than DuBois reeling from criticism of his earlier call
to "Close Ranks," it was an admission that because
of black participation in World War I, segregationists were
more determined to keep the racial status quo as reflected by
escalating violence particularly against black soldiers in uniform.
We are returning from the war! The Crisis and tens of thousands
of black men were drafted into a great struggle. For bleeding
France and what she means and has meant and will mean to us
and humanity and against the threat of German race arrogance,
we fought gladly and to the last drop of blood; for America
and her highest ideals, we fought in far-off hope; for the dominant
southern oligarchy entrenched in Washington, we fought in bitter
For the America that represents and gloats in lynching, disfranchise¬ment,
caste, brutality and devilish insult--for this, in the hateful
upturning and mixing of things, we were forced by vindictive
fate to fight, also.
But today we return! We return from the slavery of uniform which
the world's madness demanded us to don to the freedom of civil
garb. We stand again to look America squarely in the face and
call a spade a spade. We sing: This country of ours, despite
all its better souls have done and dreamed, is yet a shameful
It disfranchises its own citizens…
It encourages ignorance…
It steals from us…
It insults us…
It organizes industry to cheat us. It cheats us out of our land;
it cheats us out of our labor. It confiscates our savings. It
reduces our wages. It raises our rent. It steals our profit.
It taxes us without representation. It keeps us consistently
and universally poor, and then feeds us on charity and derides
This is the country to which we Soldiers
of Democracy return. This is the fatherland for which we fought!
But it is our fatherland. It was right for us to fight. The
faults of our country are our faults. Under similar circumstances,
we would fight again. But by the God of Heaven, we are cowards
and jackasses if now that war is over, we do not marshal every
ounce of our brain and brawn to fight a sterner, longer, more
unbending battled against the forces of hell in our own land.
We return from fighting.
We return fighting.
Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great
Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or
know the reason why.
Source: The Crisis, Vol. 18, No. 1, (May 1919),
THE CHICAGO DEFENDER DESCRIBES THE RACE RIOT
Beginning on July, 27, 1919 Chicago experienced
the worst race riot in the 20th Century. For over three weeks
white mobs in the city attacked African American residents and
their property. In the following account the Chicago Defender
describes the rioting.
“For fully four days this old city has
been rocked in a quake of racial antagonism, seared in a blaze
of red hate flaming as fiercely as the heat of day – each
hour ushering in new stories of slaying, looting, arson, rapine,
sending the awful roll of casualties to a grim total of 40 dead
and more than 500 wounded, many of them perhaps fatally. A certain
madness distinctly indicated in reports of shootings, stabbings
and burnings of buildings which literally pour in every minute.
Women and children have not been spared. Traffic has been stopped.
Phone wires have been cut.
Stores and Offices Shut
Victims lay in every street and vacant lot. Hospitals are filled;
4,000 troops rest in arms, among which are companies of the
old Eighth regiment, while the inadequate force of police battle
vainly to save the city’s honor.
Fear to Care for Bodies
Undertakers on the South Side refused to accept bodies of white
victims. White undertakers refused to accept black victims.
Both for the same reason. They feared the vengeance of the mobs
Every little while bodies were found in some street, alley or
vacant lot – and no one sought to care for them. Patrols
were unable to accommodate them because they were being used
in rushing live victims to hospitals. Some victims were dragged
to a mob’s “No Man’s Land” and dropped.
The telephone wires in the raging districts
were cut in many places by the rioters as it became difficult
to estimate the number of dead victims.
Hospitals Filled with Maimed
Provident hospital, 36th and Dearborn Streets, situated in the
heart of the “black belt,” as well as other hospitals
in the surrounding districts, are filled with the maimed and
dying. Every hour, every minute, every second finds patrols
backed up and unloading the human freight branded with the red
symbol of this orgy of hate. Many victims have reached the hospitals,
only to die before kind hands could attend to them. So pressing
as the situation become that schools, drug stores and private
houses are being used. Trucks, drays and hearses are being used
Monday Sees “Reign of Terror”
Following the Sunday affray, the red tongues had blabbed their
fill, and Monday morning found the thoroughfares in the white
neighborhoods throated with a sea of humans – everywhere
– some armed with guns, bricks, clubs, and an oath. The
presence of a black face in their vicinity was the signal for
a carnival of death, and before any aid could read the poor,
unfortunate one his body reposed in some kindly gutter, his
brains spilled over a dirty pavement. Some of the victims were
chased, caught and dragged into alleys and lots, where they
were left for dead. In all parts of the city, while mobs dragged
from surface cars, black passengers wholly ignorant of any trouble,
and set upon them. An unidentified young woman and a 3 months
old baby were found dead on the street at the intersection of
47th Sstreet and Wentworth Avenue. She had attempted to board
a car there when the mob seized her, beat her, slashed her body
into ribbons and beat the baby’s brains out against a
telegraph pole. Not satisfied with this, one rioter severed
her breasts, and a white youngster bore it aloft on a pole,
triumphantly, while the crowd hooted gleefully. All the time
this was happening, several policemen were in the crowd, but
did not make any attempt to make rescue until too late.
Kill Scores Coming From Yards
Rioters operating in the vicinity of the stock yards, which
lies in the heart of white residences west of Halsted street,
attacked scores of workers – women and men alike returning
from work. Stories of these outrages began to flutter into the
black vicinities and hysterical men harangued their fellows
to avenge the killings—and soon they, infected with the
insanity of the mob, rushed through the streets, drove high
powered motor cars or waited for street cars, which they attacked
with gunfire and stones. Shortly after noon traffic south of
22nd Street and north of 55th Street, west of Cottage Grove
Avenue and east of Wentworth Avenue, was stopped with the exception
of trolley cars. Whites who entered this zone were set upon
with unmeasurable fury.
Policemen employed in the disturbed sections were wholly unable
to handle the situation. When one did attempt to carry out his
duty he was beaten and his gun taken from him. The fury of the
mob could not be abated. Mounted police were employed, but to
35th Vortex of Night’s Rioting
With the approach of darkness the rioting gave prospects of
being continued throughout the night. Whites boarded the platforms
and shot through the windows of the trains at passengers. Some
of the passengers alighting from cars were thrown from the elevated
structure, suffering broken legs, fractured skulls, and death.
The block between State street and Wabash avenue on East 35th
street was the scene of probably the most shooting and rioting
of the evening and a pitched battle ensued between the police,
whites and blacks.
The trouble climaxed when white occupants of the Angelus apartments
began firing shots and throwing missiles from their windows.
One man was shot through the head, but before his name could
be secured he was spirited away. The attack developed a hysterical
battling fervor and the mob charged the building and the battle
Police were shot. Whites were seen to tumble out of automobiles,
from doorways and other places, wounded or suffering from bruises
inflicted by gunshot, stones or bricks. A reign of terror literally
ensued. Automobiles were stopped, occupants beaten and machines
wrecked. Street cars operating in 35th street were wrecked,
as well as north and south bound State street cars. Windows
were shattered and white occupants beaten.
Trolley cars operating east and west on 35th street were stopped,
since they always left the vicinity in a perforated state. Shortly
after 8 o’clock all service was discontinued on 42d, 47th
and 51st streets.
Stores Looted; Homes Burned
Tiring of street fights, rioters turned to burning and looting.
This was truly a sleepless night, and a resume of the day’s
happenings nourished an inclination for renewed hostilities
from another angle. The homes of blacks isolated in white neighborhoods
were burned to the ground and the owners and occupants beaten
and thrown unconscious in the smoldering embers. Meanwhile rioters
in the “black belt” smashed windows and looted shops
of white merchants on State Street.
Other rioters, manning high powered cars and armed, flitted
up and down the darkened streets, chancing shots at fleeting
whites on the street and those riding in street cars.
Toward midnight quiet reigned along State Street under the vigilance
of 400 policemen and scores of uniformed men of the 8th Regiment.
Rioting Extends Into Loop
Tuesday dawned sorrowing with a death toll
of 20 dead and 300 injured. In early morning a 13-year-old lad
standing on his porch at 51st and Wabash avenue was shot to
death by a white man who, in an attempt to get away, encountered
a mob and his existence became history. A mounted policeman,
unknown, fatally wounded a small boy in the 48th block on Dearborn
street and was shot to death by some unknown rioter.
Workers thronging the loop district to their work were set upon
by mobs of sailors and marines roving the streets and several
fatal casualties have been reported. Infuriated white rioters
attempted to storm the Palmer house and the post office, where
there are a large number of employees, but an adequate police
forced dispersed them and later the men were spirited away to
their homes in closed government mail trucks and other conveyances.
White clerks have replaced our clerks in the main post office
temporarily and our men have been shifted to outlying post offices.
The loop violence came as a surprise to the police. Police and
reserves had been scattered over the South Side rioting districts,
as no outbreaks had been expected in this quarter. Toward noon
stations therein were overwhelmed with calls.”
Source: “Riot Sweeps Chicago: Ghastly
Deeds of Rioters Told” The Chicago Defender August 2,
THE CHICAGO COMMISSION ON RACE RELATIONS EXPLAINS THE 1919 RIOT
On July 27, 1919 Chicago erupted into racial
violence. The week-long confrontation was the largest of a number
of racial riots across the nation during what would be known
as the Red summer of 1919. In the aftermath of the riot, Illinois
Governor Frank Lowden appointed the Chicago Commission on Race
Relations to investigate its causes and to suggest methods to
reduce racial tension in the city. Part of its report appears
Thirty-eight persons killed, 537 injured, and about 1,000 rendered
homeless and destitute was the casualty list of the race riot
which broke out in Chicago on July 27, 1919, and swept uncontrolled
through parts of the city for four days. By August 2 it had
yielded to the forces of law and order, and on August 8 the
state militia withdrew.
A clash between whites and Negroes on the shore of Lake Michigan
at Twenty-ninth Street, which involved much stone-throwing and
resulted in the drowning of a Negro boy, was the beginning of
the riot. A policeman’s refusal to arrest a white man
accused by Negroes of stoning the Negro boy was an important
factor in starting mob action. Within two hours the riot was
in full sway, had scored it second fatality, and was spreading
throughout the south and southwest parts of the city. Before
the end came it reached out to a section of the West Side and
even invaded the “Loop,” the heart of Chicago’s
downtown business district. Of the thirty-eight killed, fifteen
were whites and twenty-three Negroes; of 537 injured, 178 were
whites, 342 were Negroes, and the race of seventeen was not
In contrast with many other outbreaks of violence over racial
friction the Chicago riot was not preceded by excitement over
reports of attacks on women or of any other crimes alleged to
have been committed by Negroes. It is interesting to note that
not one of the thirty-eight deaths was of a woman or girl, and
that only ten of the 537 persons injured were women and girls.
In further contrast with other outbreaks of racial violence,
the Chicago riot was marked by no hangings or burnings.
The rioting was characterized by much activity on the part of
gangs of hoodlums, and the clashes developed from sudden spontaneous
assaults into organized raids against life and property.
In handling the emergency and restoring order, the police were
effectively reinforced by the state militia. Help was also rendered
by deputy sheriffs, and by ex-soldiers who volunteered.
In nine of the thirty-eight cases of death, indictments for
murder were voted by the grand jury, and in the ensuing trials
there were four convictions. In fifteen other cases the coroner’s
jury recommended that unknown members of mobs be apprehended,
but none of these was ever found.
The conditions underlying the Chicago riot were discussed in
detail in other sections of this report, especially in those
which deal with housing, industry, and racial contracts. The
commission’s inquiry concerning the facts of the riot
included critical analysis of the 5, 584 pages of the testimony
taken by the coroner’s jury; a study of the records of
the office of the state’s attorney; studies of the records
of the Police Department, hospitals, and other institutions
with reference to injuries, and the records of the Fire Department
with reference to incendiary fires; and interviews with many
public officials and citizens having special knowledge of various
phases of the riot. Much information was also gained by the
Commission in a series of four conferences to which it invited
the foreman of the riot grand jury, the chief and other commanding
officers of the Police Department, the state’s attorney
and some of his assistants, and officers in command of the state
militia during the riot.
Background of the riot.—The Chicago riot was not the only
serious outbreak of interracial violence in the year following
the war. The same summer witnessed the riot in Washington, about
a week earlier; the riot in Omaha, about a month later; and
then the week of armed conflict in a rural district of Arkansas
due to exploitation of Negro cotton producers.
Nor was the Chicago riot the first violent manifestation of
race antagonism in Illinois. In 1908 Springfield had been the
scene of an outbreak that brought shame to the community which
boasted of having been Lincoln’s home. In 1917 East St.
Louis was torn by a bitter and destructive riot which raged
for nearly a week, and was the subject of a Congressional investigation
that disclosed appalling underlying conditions.
This Commission, while making a thorough study of the Chicago
riot, has reviewed briefly, for comparative purposes, the essential
facts of the Springfield and East St. Louis riots, and a minor
clashes in Chicago occurring both before and after the riot
Chicago was one of the northern cities most largely affected
by the migration of Negroes from the South during the war. The
Negro population increased from 44, 103 in 1910 to 109,594 in
1920, an increase of 148 per cent. Most of this increase came
in the years 1916-19. It was principally caused by the widening
of industrial opportunities due to the entrance of northern
workers into the army and to the demand for war workers at much
higher wages than Negroes had been able to earn in the South.
An added factor was the feeling, which spread like a contagion
through the South, that the great opportunity had come to escape
from what they felt to be a land of discrimination and subserviency
to places where they could expect fair treatment and equal rights.
Chicago became to the southern Negro the “top of the world.”
The effect of this influx of Negroes into Chicago industries
is reviewed in another section of this report. It is necessary
to point out here only that friction in industry was less than
might have been expected. There had been a few strikes which
had given the Negro the name of “strike breaker.”
But the demand for labor was such that there were plenty of
jobs to absorb all the white and Negro workers available. This
condition continued even after the end of the war and demobilization.
In housing, however, there was different story. Practically
no new building had been done in the city during the war, and
it was a physical impossibility for a doubled Negro population
to live in the space occupied in 1915. Negroes spread out of
what had been known as the “Black Belt” into neighborhoods
near-by which had been exclusively white. This movement, as
described in another section of this report, developed friction,
so much so that in the “invaded” neighborhoods bombs
were thrown at the houses of Negroes who had moved in, and of
real estate men, white and Negro, who sold or rented property
to newcomers. From July 1, 1917, to July 27, 1919, the day the
riot began, twenty-four such bombs had been thrown. The police
had been entirely unsuccessful in finding those guilty, and
were accused of making little effort to do so.
A third phase of the situation was the increased political strength
gained by Mayor Thompson’s faction in the Republican party.
Negro politicians affiliated with this faction had been able
to sway to its support a large proportion of the voters in the
ward most largely inhabited by Negroes. Negro aldermen elected
from this ward were prominent in the activities of this faction.
The part played by the Negro vote in the hard-fought partisan
struggle is indicated by the fact in the Republican primary
election on February 25, 1919, Mayor Thompson received in this
ward 12, 143 votes, while his two opponents, Olson and Merriam,
received only 1,492 and 319 respectively. Mayor Thompson was
re-elected on April 1, 1919, by a plurality of 21,622 in a total
vote in the city of 698,920; his vote in this ward was 15,569,
to his nearest opponent’s 3,323, and was therefore large
enough to control the election. The bitterness of this factional
struggle aroused resentment against the race that had so conspicuously
allied itself with the Thompson side.
As part of the background of the Chicago riot, the activities
of gangs of hoodlums should be cited. There had been friction
for years, especially along the western boundary of the area
in which the Negroes mainly live, and attacks upon Negroes by
gangs of young toughs had been particularly frequent in the
spring just preceding the riot. They reached a climax on the
night of June 21, 1919, five weeks before the riot., when two
Negroes were murdered. Each was alone at the time and was the
victim of unprovoked and particularly brutal attack. Molestation
of Negroes by hoodlums had been prevalent in the vicinity of
parks and playgrounds and at bathing-beaches.
On two occasions shortly before the riot the forewarnings of
serious racial trouble had been so pronounced that the chief
of police sent several hundred extra policemen into the territory
where trouble seemed imminent. But serious violence did not
break out until Sunday afternoon, July 27, when the clash on
the lake shore at Twenty-ninth Street resulted in the drowning
of a Negro boy.
Source: The Chicago Commission on Race Relations,
The Negro in Chicago: A Study in Race Relations and a Race Riot
(Chicago: University of Chicago, 1922), 1-3.
SWEET HOME, CHICAGO
In an August 1919 editorial, the Chicago Defender
assesses the role of housing competition in the Chicago Race
Riot. However the Defender also argues that racial discrimination
in housing, no matter how pronounced at the moment, will ultimately
fail because of the law of supply and demand that impacts both
white home sellers and black home buyers.
THE RECENT RIOT in our city is attributed by some persons to
the friction growing out of some of our group purchasing property
in what is called white neighborhoods. In reality, that had
very little if anything to do with it. Neither did the industrial
questions cut much of a figure, because most of the laborers
of our group have become unionized, thus doing away with the
occasion for friction along those lines. For the riot there
were two causes, an immediate and a primary cause.
WITH REFERNCE to the housing proposition nothing has occurred
that is extraordinary or unusual except in one particular. The
accessions to the population, so far as our group is concerned,
has been more rapid during the past four years than at any time
prior thereto. This has necessitated the expansion of territory
occupied by members of our group. The expansion has been going
on in Chicago for the last half-century and nothing has been
said or thought of it and done about it until recently. The
rapidity of the expansion of the past few years has attracted
more attention, has been more noticeable and therefore created
a little friction which otherwise would have been overlooked.
TO THE OPINON of some this has created a problem which must
be solved. The fact seems to be lost sight of that he rapid
influx includes not only persons of our group but other races
and nationalities as well, as for instance, the Poles, Italians,
Greeks, Lithuanians, and Hebrews all have outgrown their original
districts; any one of these groups presents as much of a problem
as the group to which we belong.
NO LAW, ordinance, rule or regulation can be adopted or enforced
which will have the effect of segregating any one of these groups
to any particular territory. And yet it is very easy for people
of a particular race, group or class to bar those not satisfactory
to them from securing a home in that particular section or territory.
All that is necessary for them to do is to agree among themselves
not to sell, lease or rent any property within said territory
to those of any other group or class whose presence may not
be desired. In this they will be clearly within their rights,
and no one will have any right to object, certainly no member
of our group.
BUT THE UNDERSTANDING or agreement is one that could not be
enforced by due process of law, hence if any one of the property
owners in such territory should see fit to sell—which
they very often do—to any member of a group to which objection
should be made, he will also be within his rights. Since we
cannot expand in any direction without occupying territory previously
occupied by whites, and since the white man is exceedingly anxious
to get the Colored man’s dollar, he is usually willing
to sell whenever the same can be done to his financial advantage.
IT IS SAFE TO ASSUME that in most of such instances the sale
to a member of our group is not from choice but from necessity.
In such cases the vendor cannot find a white person that is
willing to make the purchase or will pay the price, and since
he needs the money and must have it, if he finds a member of
our group both willing and able to make the purchase the sale
is consummated. This is the way expansion has heretofore taken
place and under such circumstances no fault should be found
and no objections should be made to such transactions. If left
alone the housing question will regulate itself. It is simply
a cause of supply and demand.
Source: Editorial, “Home, Sweet Home,”
Chicago Defender, August 30, 1919, p. 4.
MARY McLEOD BETHUNE ON THE PROBLEMS OF THE CITY DWELLER
In a 1924 article in Opportunity, the magazine
of the National Urban League, Mary McLeod Bethune, President
of Bethune-Cookman College in Florida, writes about the challenges
facing the growing numbers of urbanizing African Americans Part
of her article appears below.
…During the past 30 years there has
been a great shift of population from the country to the town,
and every class of towns, from village to great cities, has
grown, whereas the country districts have actually decreased
in population. The increase of the Negro urban population in
the South in the decade 1910 1920 was 396,444 or 56,000 more
than the increase for the same period in the number of Negroes
in the North from the South--340,260. More than one third—34%
of the total Negro population is living in urban territory.
The census reports show an actual decrease of 234,876 or 3.4%
in the Negro rural population of the United States. In 1910
the number of Negroes reported as living in rural territory
was 7,138,534. In 1920 the number thus living reported was 6,903,658.’
A powerful contributory cause for recent legislation
in the restriction of immigration was the alarming extent to
which our future citizens were concentrating in the large seaport
and manufacturing cities instead of seeking the extensive and
unworked agricultural lands of the middle West and the West…The
causes back of this almost universal movement of population
cityward are usually conceded to be economic, educational and
In spite of the manifold movements, plans
and efforts to make farming and other rural pursuits pay, the
country lad still turns his eye towards the city as his El Dorado.
He wants a shorter working day; wages that will insure him good
clothes and creature comforts; an opportunity to advance in
earning power as he increases his ability to be of service in
his calling; a fair chance to acquire wealth and become a leader
in his community. To the country lad with plenty of time to
dream while he plods thru days and days of monotonous routine,
this is what the city means. To many an adult, weary of the
grind and isolation of wresting a living from the soil, it offers
an opening for a new chance, a realized vision. And so they
come --young and old -beardless youth and gnarled old age all
expecting that the road to wealth and power and influence lies
down the great white way of the modern city.
The cry of the Soul to know has given another
push to this modern move towards the city. Longer school terms;
better equipped school buildings; more capable teachers; the
broadening influence of lectures; concerts, motion pictures,
libraries, parades and festive and holiday occasions have lured
many a grizzled homesteader to abandon home and ancestral acres
and move cityward. The widening out and diversification of the
modern high school with its facilities for teaching the technique
of skilled trades and business; home economics and agriculture
as well as the arts and sciences. The extending of education
at the public expense in some cities to include even a college
education. The offering of night courses for underprivileged
boys and girls, men and women. These are advantages which even
the phonograph, the motion picture machine and the radio cannot
compensate for in the country.
Then, again, in spite of automobiles, Fords, good roads, and
the transmission of electric light current over long distances,
the country is still a lonely place for thousands and thousands
of dwellers. Weary of quilting parties, barn raisings and quarterly
meeting, they are impelled cityward by the age old urge towards
companionship and recreation….
The city’s churches, its civic clubs,
its parks, its easily accessible amusement resorts and centers,
its playground, its bathhouses and skating rinks; its roof gardens
theatres and cabarets exert a pull as mighty as the social push
of the rural populations toward the m metropolitan centers.
Though not so often mentioned as a cause,
the desire for protection has impelled many a rural dweller
to move into or nearer the city. This is especially true with
Negro rural dwellers in nearly every part of the South, where
the lack or indifference of constabulary or police agencies
make the possession of property uncertain- often hazardous and
the safeguarding of life uncertain. These people turn towards
the cities for protection in the exercise of the rights guaranteed
them under the constitution, and a half chance to defend themselves
should these rights be infringed upon. They also seek the protection
from fire and ravages of disease which the superior organization
and supervision of city life afford…
To meet this problem is the social challenge
of our generation! To assist the city dweller to make the adjustments
necessary to a full possession and enjoyment of the manifold
blessings and privileges of urban life is the business of the
Church; the mission of the trained social worker; the raison
d'etre of organized philanthropy and charity. To this task should
be applied the earnest and intelligent aid of every group that
makes up the population of our cities. It requires cooperation
among racial groups widely differing in language, national customs,
and color. It requires mutual racial respect and confidence.
It requires tolerance and a courageous application to all sorts
of unusual maladjustments, of the principle of the Golden rule.
Whether the newcomer to the city is from Texas or South Carolina;
whether he is from the Steppe of Russia or the sunny Plain of
Italy; whether he is of Nordic hue, or wears the ‘shadowed
livery of the burnished sun,’ his problem is to obtain
for himself and family a living wage, and a place to invest
it in cleanliness, fresh air, sanitary surroundings and wholesome
recreation. Forcing individuals or groups into segregated ghettoes,
with poor sanitation, unpaved streets, run down houses, filthy
alleys and surroundings conductive to depravity of both thought
and action is neither a scientific nor altruistic approach to
the problem of the city dweller… The work of …Americanizing
the foreigner…, the breaking down of racial barriers and
the conceding to every man his right to own and enjoy his property
wherever his means permit him to own it…must still be
the foundation of the programme of organizations like the Urban
League and other great social agencies whose militant efforts
in these directions have made them national in scope and purpose.
Source: Mary McLeod Bethune, “The Problems
of the City Dweller,” Opportunity (February 1924), 54-55.