African American Women and the Vote, 1837-1965

By Ann D. Gordon; Bettye Collier-Thomas | Go to book overview

Clubwomen and Electoral
Politics in the 1920S

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham

Between 1900 and 1930 more than 1.5 million black men and women migrated from the South to the urban North. The massive trek, actually begun in the last decade of the nineteenth century, shifted into high gear during World War I when wartime demands from northern industry promised employment and, most of all, escape from the southern way of life—from its boll-weevil-ravaged sharecrop farming and from its segregation, disfranchisement, and lynching. In the decade between 1910 and 1920 the black population soared upward in such cities as Chicago (from 44,103 to 109,458), Detroit (from 5,741 to 40,878), Cleveland (from 8,448 to 34,451), New York (from 91,709 to 152,467), and Philadelphia (from 84,459 to 134,229). 1 Concentrated in the ghettos of urban centers, the migrants soon transformed their restricted residential opportunities into political opportunity.

With migration stepped up to even higher levels between 1920 and 1930, the growing significance of the black vote did not escape the attention of machine politicians. Blacks played an especially influential role in Chicago's machine politics. For instance, in the city's closely contested mayoral race in 1915, the black vote was critical to the victory of Republican William Hale Thompson. Moreover, growing black populations in the northern cities and border states precipitated the rise of black officeholders. In the first three decades of the

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