Black Belt farmer, Wilcox County, Alabama, 2010 (Deondra Scott)

The Great Migration

In 1900, African Americans constituted nearly a third of those living in Southern states and less than 2% in other regions. They occupied the lowest rung of the Southern racial caste system, relegated to sharecropping, discriminatory Jim Crow laws, extreme poverty, and brutal racial violence.

Seeking freedom, more than six million African Americans left the South in a steady, 60-year stream. By 1970, just 19% of the Southern population was black and the African American population in the Northeast and Midwest had grown to 10%.

Traveling by car, bus, or train from Louisiana to Los Angeles, Mississippi and Alabama to Chicago and Detroit, Georgia and Florida to New York and New Jersey, the individual acts of African Americans aggregated into a movement. The massive population shift forever changed both those who fled and the places where they sought refuge. Those who migrated still faced discrimination, segregation, and hardship, but used new opportunities to nurture potential in the next generation.

Today many urban communities throughout the Northeast and Midwest have majority African American populations and have become centers for black culture.