The American Work Ethic and the Changing Work Force: An Historical Perspective

By Herbert Applebaum | Go to book overview

20
MINORITIES IN THE
TWENTIETH CENTURY

AFRICAN-AMERICANS

In 1910, 80 percent of African-Americans lived in mostly rural areas in twelve southern states. Stimulated by the pull of labor shortages during World War I, blacks migrated out of the South to the North. The building of northern urban black ghettos dates from this period. There was a pause in the migrations during the depression in the 1930s, but beginning in 1940 new and larger black migrations out of the South resumed. Between 1940 and 1970, more than four million African-Americans migrated from the South to the North. Blacks uprooted themselves from a southern, rural way of life and were cast into a northern, industrial, urban way of life. It was a traumatic social change and very difficult to adjust to. As blacks moved into the cities, whites moved to other neighborhoods and later to the suburbs, and blacks occupied the abandoned neighborhoods.

Moving North, African-Americans developed their own centers in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. Steel, meat packing, auto manufacturing, shipbuilding, and mining were all major employers of African-Americans, though they were used in the most physically taxing, dirty, and unskilled jobs. By 1930 more blacks held blue-collar jobs than worked in agriculture. In most northern cities there was a small African-American middle class--lawyers, doctors, musicians, saloonkeepers, shopkeepers, newspaper publishers, and dressmakers. A new middle class emerged which provided services to the African-American community--ministers, newspapermen, hotel and drugstore owners, real estate and insurance agents, funeral directors, and others. African-Americans were able to create their own communities with a set of social, economic, and religious organizations that united their neighborhoods. In Harlem, African-Americans owned or managed 35 percent of the real estate in the area.

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