Great Migration

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Great Migration

Great Migration, in U.S. history. 1 The migration of Puritans to New England from England, 1620–40, prior to the English civil war. As a result of the increasingly tyrannical rule of King Charles I and the oppression of Puritanism under Archbishop William Laud and the hierarchy of the Church of England, some 20,000 people, mostly in family groups, left England and settled in what is now Massachusetts, where they founded a deeply religious and insular community. One of their most important leaders was John Winthrop.

2 The initial migration of settlers into the Oregon territory along the Oregon Trail in 1843. Setting out from Independence, Mo., a wagon train, comprising about 1,000 people along with with their livestock, was led as far as Fort Hall, in SE Idaho, by John Gantt, a former U.S. Army captain. The missionary Dr. Marcus Whitman led them the rest of the way to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, an arduous journey totaling more than 2,000 miles. The term Great Migration is sometimes extended to include the thousands more who made the trek in the following years.

See study by L. Coffman (2012).



3 The movement of some six million African Americans from the rural South to industrialized urban areas of the North during the 20th cent. From about 1910 to 1940, when legislation severely limited immigration, the cities of the Midwest and the Northeast, especially Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Philadelphia, experienced a need for factory laborers. Word spread throughout the South that conditions would be better farther north, offering an escape from tenant farming and sharecropping, and segregation and Jim Crow laws. Although African Americans also encountered racism in the North, the migration produced a lasting influence on the music, arts, literature, religion, and cuisine of urban America; the Harlem Renaissance was one of its results. During and after World War II (1940–70) the need for workers again increased and a new, even larger migration of African Americans from the South to northern urban centers and to Los Angeles and other cities of the West as well occurred. This second migration lasted until northern cities began losing industries, and some blacks began a reverse migration to the South, drawn by the job growth and lower costs of living there.

See studies by N. Lemann (1991), I. Wilkerson (2010), and L. P. Boustan (2016).

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