What Was the Great Migration?

The Great Migration was a large movement of African American people out of the southern United States after Reconstruction. This movement lasted from around 1915 through the 1960s. During this time, over 6 million people moved north and west toward urban areas, creating a new black urban culture.

The Great Migration was triggered by the oppressive, segregation-centered policies of the rural South that offered few opportunities for the newly freed black population. World War I and the increasing industrialization of cities resulted in many job opportunities in less-segregated areas. However, many African Americans still had to cope with racism and poor living conditions in the areas they moved to.

The Harlem Renaissance, originally called the New Negro Movement, was a key part of the Great Migration. During the early decades of the Migration, black artists grew in popularity. Writers, actors and musicians created work that dealt with what African Americans had to go through before and during the Great Migration. Some famous names from this time period include Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson and Louis Armstrong. This was also the beginning of blues and jazz music, which quickly caught on with white audiences.

By the end of the Great Migration, the country's demographics were vastly different, and over 70 percent of black citizens lived in urban or suburban areas. Before the Migration, 90 percent of the black population had been residents of the South.