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The Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance - Racial Climate
The Great Migration sparked after World War I. It was the beginning of new opportunities and a time of great change. From 1910 to 1930, approximately 4.1 million African Americans moved from the southern region of the United States to the North. They escaped racism and looked forward to better employment. Most of the employment available for African Americans in the industrial cities involved entertainment. The Cotton Club movie depicts the lifestyles of people who lived during the Harlem Renaissance and shows how the great migration effected the jazz age during the 1920s and the positive and negative aspects of the era.
There are numerous reasons as to why a massive group of African Americans traveled to the industrial cities of the North. They hoped to escape peonage, sharecropping and tenant farming. Widespread violence and lynching were very threatening at the time and the primary factor of the movement was due to the racial climate in the South. The Supreme Court in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) ruled that separate facilities for whites and blacks were constitutional. This ruling encouraged the passage of discriminatory laws which angered many blacks because it eliminated gains made by African Americans during the time of Reconstruction. The Jim Crow law enacted by Southern states, legalized discrimination and segregation towards African Americans in the late 19th century. These unreasonable laws created in the South towards African Americans made living in the North seem like a dream to them.
There are many other situations that contributed to African Americans living in the South, to be forced to look for alternative employment in the Northern states. The boll weevil infestation in Southern cotton fields pushed laborers in a different direction of work as did the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. World War I also had a major influence on the Great Migration. The War and the Immigration Act of 1924 put a halt to the migration of European immigrants to America. The labor shortages in factories opened many job positions. It is obvious that expansion of war industries created many new job opportunities for blacks. Another reason for this large movement of people was the jazz age and society at the time. As seen in the movie The Cotton Club, people living in the roaring twenties were socially free and careless. They were having fun and wildly spending their money. The boom of jazz music and dance during the twenties opened many job opportunities for African Americans that searched for employment in entertainment.
The racial composition of the United State's Northern cities went through a significant transformation after the war. Between 1910 and 1930, the population of African Americans in Northern states grew by approximately forty percent. The population increase mainly fell on the major cities such as New York, Chicago, and Detroit. As European immigrants, African Americans and the white ethnic working class struggled to compete for jobs and housing, tensions rose. Because of the major increase in population, access to housing was creating the most friction between blacks and whites after the Great Migration. The African Americans that moved to the Northern states, especially in the large cities, were confined to all-black communities. The largest of these cities-within-cities was Harlem and about 200,000 African Americans lived there.
The roaring twenties was a time of growth in society. It was not only the birth of jazz music and a different form of dancing but the Harlem Renaissance as well. Even though there were racial tensions left from the Great Migration, it was still an age that represented new culture, opportunities and a promising life for African Americans that they never would have experienced in the South.