Between 1910 and 1930 over six million African Americans moved from the southern states to urban centers across the Northeast, Midwest, and West. This mass relocation, known as the Great Migration, was motivated by the wish to escape a hostile pro-slavery, white supremacist climate in the South and the lure of industry jobs in the North following the devastation of the South’s cotton crop.
The Great Migration resulted in unprecedented demographic changes across the country; the African American population in the North rose by roughly twenty percent, concentrated in urban centers such as Detroit, New York, and Cleveland. This demographic shift influenced the political and cultural landscapes of some of the country’s largest cities and lead to cultural movements including the Harlem Renaissance in New York City.
The movement of Black Americans into northern cities was often met by “red lining,” the practice of geographic segregation and discriminatory urban policy making. It was also met by “white flight,” the mid-twentieth century migration of many white Americans from more diverse urban centers to suburban white enclaves. Suburbanization and ghettos are recognizable products of cities having been divided along racial lines in American history.
A second wave of mass internal-migration occurred from 1940 to 1970, prompted by worsening civil rights conditions in the South as well as greater job opportunities in the North.