Depletion of the South's Human Capital: The Case of Eminent Black Entrepreneurs

Article excerpt

Contrary to a once-popular belief, the Great Black Migration from the South tended to be selective of those blacks who had relatively high levels of education, occupational skills, or other forms of human capital. The present study analyzes the extent to which this selective out-migration depleted the South of an important human resource: blacks who became eminent entrepreneurs. Data on southern-born blacks who became prominent business owners in other regions of the nation indicate that the heaviest losses of these blacks were suffered by places in the Upper South that border northern states and by places in the Deep South with negligible urban black populations. It is suggested that these findings can be explained by basic concepts of migration theory and research, such us push and pull factors, intervening obstacles, and the presence or absence of community attachments.

KEY WORDS: internal migration; southern United States; eminent Black entrepreneurs

Contrario a la creencia alguna vez popular, la Gran Migracion Negra del Sur tendio a ser selectiva con aquellos negros que tenian niveles relativamente altos de educacion, habilidades profesionales u otra forma de capital humano. El presente estudio analiza hasta que grado esta migracion selectiva dejo al Sur sin un recurso humano importante: negros que llegaron a set empresarios eminentes. Los datos relacionados con negros nacidos en el sur que llegaron a ser propietarios de negocios prominentes en otras regiones de la nacion, indican que la mayor perdida fue sufrida en lugares en la zona que bordea a los estados del Norte y en lugares en la zona baja del Sur con poblaciones negrus urbanas insignificantes. Se plantea que estas conclusiones pueden ser explicadus por los conceptos basicos de lus teorias y estudios de migracion, tales como los factores de expulsion y atraccion (push-pull), los obstaculos intermedios, y la presencia o ausencia de lazos entre los miembros de las comunidades.


Throughout much of the twentieth century, the U.S. South was widely regarded as an economically and socially disadvantaged region that was losing its human capital to other parts of the nation. For example, in the 1930s, Wilson Gee, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, observed that a disproportionate number of the southern-born Americans, white and black, who were listed in Who's Who in 1932-33 resided outside the South. He concluded, "... the South has been and is being depleted severely of its best talent to the enrichment of other parts and to its own impoverishment" (Gee 1937, p 343). And, in explaining this "drag of talent" from the region, he furthermore asserted, "... in general ... superior opportunities lie outside the South, and it is in search of these that the talent has been attracted from the region" (Gee 1937, p 343).

A neglected aspect of this depletion of human capital has been the South's loss of those blacks who became prominent entrepreneurs in the North and West. Most of these accomplished individuals left the South as children or young adults during the "Great Black Migration," when over six million southern blacks moved to the urban-industrial centers of other regions between 1915 and 1970, seeking the better economic and social conditions there. At the height of the out-migration, in fact, most members of what Boyd (2006) called the "black business elite" were southern-born blacks who had established themselves as entrepreneurs in places outside their region of birth. The members of this elite included notable individuals--for instance: Madame C. J. Walker (1867-1919), born in Louisiana, who made a fortune in the hair care industry in Indianapolis and later in New York City; Frank L. Gillespie (1876-1925), born in Arkansas, a founder of the Supreme Life Insurance Company in Chicago; and John Harold Johnson (1918-2005), also born in Arkansas, who founded and published Ebony magazine and other black-oriented periodicals in the same city. …