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This Far by Faith

Journeys

Timeline

People

About the Series
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1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WA
1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW
Next Journey
The Great Migration: New Opportunities, New Tensions 1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER



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Timeline: 1866-1945 View Detailed Timeline
1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues



1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW
The Great Migration: New Opportunities, New Tensions



"...On a one-way ticket -- Gone up North, Gone up West, Gone!" --Langston Hughes


Almost all black Americans currently living in the North have family roots in the South. Their parents and grandparents were among the more than a million black southerners who migrated to the North in search of better lives during the period between the first and second World Wars. This period in history is commonly known as the "Great Migration."


Storefront Baptist church, Chicago, 1941.

Storefront Baptist church, Chicago, 1941.


The impact of the Great Migration on African-American history is as significant as the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement. The Migration was born out of the Reconstruction era, when newly-freed blacks were denied economic retribution and representation in government. Then came the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision, which effectively legalized segregation by allowing for "separate but equal" accommodations for blacks and whites.

In reality, they were separate and unequal, and, as Louis Lomax put it, "inequality is the Siamese twin of injustice."

The belief that the North held the key to better jobs, less discrimination, and political rights motivated tens of thousands of African-Americans to migrate from South to North, from countryside to city. The African-American quest for justice and freedom had survived three hundred years of slavery. Now, they were determined to share in the prosperity enjoyed by their fellow Americans. As during slavery, the way to freedom and a better life lay due North.


Family dressed for church posing on the stairs.

Family dressed for church posing on the stairs.


Class-consciousness and aspirations for social mobility in the early 1900s divided black Christians. Established black middle-class churches failed to attract the migrants who increased the city's black population by a factor of ten within thirty years. The staid, reserved services made rural blacks feel unwelcome.

They could not dress well enough, nor tithe high enough, to please these "silk stocking" churchgoers, who themselves had been poor and downtrodden only a generation before. These "old-line" churches were interested in assimilating mainstream American values and practices. For instance, they used choirs that sang European devotional music and did not permit the singing of "devil songs" and "jumped-up" songs, as the blues were commonly termed.

The new arrivals wanted to worship in places where they could feel the power of God in their bodies and express His grace with their voices. They found what they were looking for in Chicago's many storefront churches. These small congregations provided a place for them to develop a sense of community through their shared spiritual bonds. Those who worked as janitors or on low-level assembly lines gained self-esteem and social status by providing service and stewardship to the church. These parishioners provided the membership that resulted in the opening of some three hundred storefront churches in the Chicago area during the 1930s.

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James Cone, professor of Professor of Systematic Theology, Union Theological Seminary, on how the church served as an organizational tool for Southern emigrants




People of Faith


 Thomas Dorsey
Thomas Dorsey


Did You Know?



The "Red Summer" of 1919 was a time of violent and bloody race riots in towns and cities across the nation.
more


Langston Hughes' poem One-Way Ticket addressed the Great Migration.
more


Painter Jacob Lawrence became famous through his Migration of the Negro series.
more


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