In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, white working-class activists and their allies in the United States acted as a political vanguard in efforts to limit the entry, naturalization, and civil rights of Chinese migrants, especially laborers. First in California in the 1850s, and then throughout the North American West and the nation at large, a militant racist-nativist minority of trade unionists and labor reformers assailed Chinese as an economic, cultural, and political threat to white workers, their living standards, and the republic itself. Uniting with Democrats and independent antimonopoly parties, workers and their organizations formed the base of a cross-class anti-Chinese movement that, by the 1880s, eroded Republicans’ support for Chinese labor migrants and won severe legal restrictions against them. Organized labor, especially the American Federation of Labor and its leadership, played a key role, lobbying Congress to refine and extend Chinese exclusion and erect similar barriers against other Asian migrants, including Japanese and Filipinos. Anti-Chinese labor advocates also influenced and coordinated with parallel pro-exclusion movements abroad, leading a global white working-class reaction to the Chinese labor diaspora across parts of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. In many ways, anti-Asian working-class nativism prefigured early-20th-century measures placing unprecedented constraints on white European migration. Yet organized labor barely opposed the demise of anti-Chinese and national-quota restrictions during World War II and the Cold War, as diplomatic demands, economic expansion, and a changing international system weakened domestic political support for exclusion.
Labor and Chinese Exclusion in US History
Justin F. Jackson
Puerto Ricans in the United States
Puerto Rican migrants have resided in the United States since before the Spanish-Cuban-American War of 1898, when the United States took possession of the island of Puerto Rico as part of the Treaty of Paris. After the war, groups of Puerto Ricans began migrating to the United States as contract laborers, first to sugarcane plantations in Hawaii, and then to other destinations on the mainland. After the Jones Act of 1917 extended U.S. citizenship to islanders, Puerto Ricans migrated to the United States in larger numbers, establishing their largest base in New York City. Over the course of the 1920s and 1930s, a vibrant and heterogeneous colonia developed there, and Puerto Ricans participated actively both in local politics and in the increasingly contentious politics of their homeland, whose status was indeterminate until it became a commonwealth in 1952. The Puerto Rican community in New York changed dramatically after World War II, accommodating up to fifty thousand new migrants per year during the peak of the “great migration” from the island. Newcomers faced intense discrimination and marginalization in this era, defined by both a Cold War ethos and liberal social scientists’ interest in the “Puerto Rican problem.” Puerto Rican migrant communities in the 1950s and 1960s—now rapidly expanding into the Midwest, especially Chicago, and into New Jersey, Connecticut, and Philadelphia—struggled with inadequate housing and discrimination in the job market. In local schools, Puerto Rican children often faced a lack of accommodation of their need for English language instruction. Most catastrophic for Puerto Rican communities, on the East Coast particularly, was the deindustrialization of the labor market over the course of the 1960s. By the late 1960s, in response to these conditions and spurred by the civil rights, Black Power, and other social movements, young Puerto Ricans began organizing and protesting in large numbers. Their activism combined a radical approach to community organizing with Puerto Rican nationalism and international anti-imperialism. The youth were not the only activists in this era. Parents in New York had initiated, together with their African American neighbors, a “community control” movement that spanned the late 1960s and early 1970s; and many other adult activists pushed the politics of the urban social service sector—the primary institutions in many impoverished Puerto Rican communities—further to the left. By the mid-1970s, urban fiscal crises and the rising conservative backlash in national politics dealt another blow to many Puerto Rican communities in the United States. The Puerto Rican population as a whole was now widely considered part of a national “underclass,” and much of the political energy of Puerto Rican leaders focused on addressing the paucity of both basic material stability and social equality in their communities. Since the 1980s, however, Puerto Ricans have achieved some economic gains, and a growing college-educated middle class has managed to gain more control over the cultural representations of their communities. More recently, the political salience of Puerto Ricans as a group has begun to shift. For the better part of the 20th century, Puerto Ricans in the United States were considered numerically insignificant or politically impotent (or both); but in the last two presidential elections (2008 and 2012), their growing populations in the South, especially in Florida, have drawn attention to their demographic significance and their political sensibilities.
Latinas/os in the Southern United States
Perla M. Guerrero
Latinas/os were present in the American South long before the founding of the United States of America, yet knowledge about their southern communities in different places and time periods is deeply uneven. In fact, regional themes important throughout the South clarify the dynamics that shaped Latinas/os’ lives, especially race, ethnicity, and the colorline; work and labor; and migration and immigration. Ideas about racial difference, in particular, reflected specifics of place, and intersections of local, regional, and international endeavors and movements of people and resources. Accordingly, Latinas/os’ position and treatment varied across the South. They first worked in agricultural fields picking cotton, oranges, and harvesting tobacco, then in a variety of industries, especially poultry and swine processing and packing. The late 20th century saw the rapid growth of Latinas/os in southern states due to changing migration and immigration patterns that moved from traditional states of reception to new destinations in rural, suburban, and urban locales with limited histories with Latinas/os or with substantial numbers of immigrants in general.
Ryan S. Pettengill
From its earliest origins through the 21st century, Detroit was a capitalist venture that was tied to the global economy. Throughout the pre-Columbian period, Detroit served as a meeting point where a diverse confederation of Native Americans came together to conduct business and diplomacy. Later, the city became a contested territorial holding that the Western imperial powers of France, Spain, Great Britain, and the United States fought over, as it represented a critical gateway that opened up trade to the central and western regions of North America. Between 1835 and 1929, capitalists built wharfs, railroad lines, factories, warehouses, and other forms of industrial infrastructure, attracting throngs of working-class job seekers and causing Detroit’s population to boom from approximately 1,100 in 1819 to more than one million in 1930. The population peaked at nearly two million in 1950 and, by 2020, it had declined to approximately 700,000. Detroit’s history might be thought of in three distinct periods: a pre-Columbian period where the region consisted of a preindustrial space that was occupied by Anishinaabeg peoples, later to be claimed by European colonists; a long industrial era in which businessmen, such as Henry Ford, centralized production within the city; and a slow period of economic decline as the city struggled to adapt to different trends in a global economy. As Detroit entered the 21st century, the city faced a declining population, rising budget deficits, and a crumbling infrastructure. Still, as several multinational corporations based their operations out of Detroit, the city remained a capitalist venture fundamentally tied to the global economy.
White Internal Migration to American Cities, 1940–1980
An overview of Euro-American internal migration in the United States between 1940 and 1980 explores the overall population movement away from rural areas to cities and suburban areas. Although focused on white Americans and their migrations, there are similarities to the Great Migration of African Americans, who continued to move out of the South during the mid-20th century. In the early period, the industrial areas in the North and West attracted most of the migrants. Mobilization for World War II loosened rural dwellers who were long kept in place by low wages, political disfranchisement, and low educational attainment. The war also attracted significant numbers of women to urban centers in the North and West. After the war, migration increased, enticing white Americans to become not just less rural but also increasingly suburban. The growth of suburbs throughout the country was prompted by racial segregation in housing that made many suburban areas white and earmarked many urban areas for people of color. The result was incredible growth in suburbia: from 22 million living in those areas in 1940 to triple that in 1970. Later in the period, as the Steelbelt rusted, the rise of the West as a migration magnet was spurred by development strategies, federal investment in infrastructure, and military bases. Sunbelt areas were making investments that stood ready to recruit industries and of course people, especially from Rustbelt areas in the North. By the dawn of the 21st century, half of the American population resided in suburbs.
The Context and Consequences of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)
Frank D. Bean and Thoa V. Khuu
The United States often views itself as a nation of immigrants. This may in part be why since the early 20th century the country has seldom adopted major changes in its immigration policy. Until 1986, only the 1924 National Origins Quota Act, its dismantlement in the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, and the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, involved far-reaching reforms. Another large shift occurred with the passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) and its derivative sequel, the 1990 Immigration Act. No major immigration legislation has yet won congressional approval in the 21st century. IRCA emerged from and followed in considerable measure the recommendations of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy (1979–1981). That body sought to reconcile two competing political constituencies, one favoring the restriction of immigration, or at least unauthorized immigration, and the other an expansion of family-based and work-related migration. The IRCA legislation contained something for each side: the passage of employer sanctions, or serious penalties on employers for hiring unauthorized workers, for the restriction side; and the provision of a legalization program, which outlined a pathway for certain unauthorized entrants to obtain green cards and eventually citizenship, for the reform side. The complete legislative package also included other provisions: including criteria allowing the admission of agricultural workers, a measure providing financial assistance to states for the costs they would incur from migrants legalizing, a requirement that states develop ways to verify that migrants were eligible for welfare benefits, and a provision providing substantial boosts in funding for border enforcement activities. In the years after the enactment of IRCA, research has revealed that the two major compromise provisions, together with the agricultural workers provision, generated mixed results. Employer sanctions failed to curtail unauthorized migration much, in all likelihood because of minimal funding for enforcement, while legalization and the agricultural measures resulted in widespread enrollment, with almost all of the unauthorized migrants who qualified coming forward to take advantage of the opportunity to become U.S. legalized permanent residents (LPRs). But when the agricultural workers provisions allowing entry of temporary workers are juxtaposed with the relatively unenforceable employer-sanctions provisions, IRCA entailed contradictory elements that created frustration for some observers. In sociocultural, political, and historical terms, scholars and others can interpret IRCA’s legalization as reflecting the inclusive, pluralistic, and expansionist tendencies characteristic of much of 18th-century U.S. immigration. But some of IRCA’s other elements led to contradictory effects, with restriction efforts being offset by the allowances for more temporary workers. This helped to spawn subsequent political pressures in favor of new restrictive or exclusive immigration controls that created serious hazards for immigrants.
The Rise of the Sunbelt South
Katherine R. Jewell
The term “Sunbelt” connotes a region defined by its environment. “Belt” suggests the broad swath of states from the Atlantic coast, stretching across Texas and Oklahoma, the Southwest, to southern California. “Sun” suggests its temperate—even hot—climate. Yet in contrast to the industrial northeastern and midwestern Rust Belt, or perhaps, “Frost” Belt, the term’s emergence at the end of the 1960s evoked an optimistic, opportunistic brand. Free from snowy winters, with spaces cooled by air conditioners, and Florida’s sandy beaches or California’s surfing beckoning, it is true that more Americans moved to the Sunbelt states in the 1950s and 1960s than to the deindustrializing centers of the North and East. But the term “Sunbelt” also captures an emerging political culture that defies regional boundaries. The term originates more from the diagnosis of this political climate, rather than an environmental one, associated with the new patterns of migration in the mid-20th century. The term defined a new regional identity: politically, economically, in policy, demographically, and socially, as well as environmentally. The Sunbelt received federal money in an unprecedented manner, particularly because of rising Cold War defense spending in research and military bases, and its urban centers grew in patterns unlike those in the old Northeast and Midwest, thanks to the policy innovations wrought by local boosters, business leaders, and politicians, which defined politics associated with the region after the 1970s. Yet from its origin, scholars debate whether the Sunbelt’s emergence reflects a new regional identity, or something else.
Latino Labor in the US Food Industry, 1880–2020
Lori A. Flores
If one considers all the links in the food chain—from crop cultivation to harvesting to processing to transportation to provision and service—millions of workers are required to get food from fields and farms to our grocery stores, restaurants, and kitchen tables. One out of every seven workers in the United States performs a job related in some way to food, whether it is in direct on-farm employment, in stores, in eating/drinking establishments, or in other agriculture-related sectors. According to demographic breakdowns of US food labor, people of color and immigrants (of varying legal and citizenship statuses) hold the majority of low-wage jobs in the US food system. Since the late 19th century Latinos (people of Latin American descent living in the United States) have played a tremendous role in powering the nation’s food industry. In the Southwest, Mexicans and Mexican Americans have historically worked as farmworkers, street vendors, restaurateurs, and employees in food factories. The Bracero Program (1942–1964) only strengthened the pattern of hiring Latinos as food workers by importing a steady stream of Mexican guest workers into fields, orchards, and vineyards across all regions of the United States. Meanwhile, mid-20th-century Puerto Rican agricultural guest workers served the farms and food processing factories of the Midwest and East Coast. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Central American food labor has become more noticeable in restaurants, the meat and seafood industries, and street food vending. It is deeply ironic, then, that the workers who help to nourish us and get our food to us go so unnourished themselves. Across the board, food laborers lack many privileges and basic rights. There is still no federal minimum wage for the almost three million farmworkers who labor in the nation’s fruit orchards, vineyards, and vegetable fields. Farmworkers (who are overwhelmingly Latino and undocumented) earn very low wages and face various health risks from pesticide exposure, extreme weather, a lack of nutritious, affordable food and potable water, substandard and unsanitary housing conditions, workplace abuse, unsafe transportation, and sexual harassment and assault. Other kinds of food workers—such as restaurant workers and street vendors—experience similar economic precarity and physical/social invisibility. While many of these substandard conditions exist because of employer decisions about costs and the treatment of their workers, American consumers seeking the lowest prices for food are also caught up in this cycle of exploitation. In efforts to stay competitive and profitable in what they give to grocery stores, restaurants, and the American public, farmers and food distributors trim costs wherever they can, which often negatively impacts the wages and conditions of those who are working the hardest at the bottom of the national food chain. To push back against these forms of exploitation, food entrepreneurs, worker unions, and other advocates have vocally supported Latinos in the US food industry and tried to address problems ranging from xenophobia to human trafficking.
In the early 1910s, Black Americans turned to motion pictures in order to resist the incessant racism they experienced through popular culture and in their everyday lives. Entrepreneurs, educators, and uplift-minded individuals believed that this modern medium could be used as a significant means to demonstrate Black humanity and dignity while, perhaps, making money in the burgeoning industry. The resultant race films ranged in content from fictionalized comedies and dramas to local exhibitions of business meetings and Black institutions. Racial uplift was a central tenet of the race film industry and was reflected most clearly in the intra-racial debate over positive versus negative images of Black life. Inside theaters, Black spectators also developed ways to mitigate racism on screen when race films were not the evening’s entertainment. The race film industry encouraged Black institution-building in the form of a critical Black film criticism tradition, Black-owned theaters, and the hiring of Black employees. Race films and the industry that made their success possible constituted a community affair that involved filmmakers, businessmen, leaders, journalists, and the moviegoing public.
Guest Workers in U.S. History
Guest workers have been part of the economic and cultural landscapes of the United States since the founding of republics across the Americas, evolving from indentured servants to the use of colonial subjects to foreign nationals imported under a variety of intergovernmental agreements and U.S. visas. Guest worker programs became institutionalized with the Bracero Program with Mexico, which ran from 1942 to 1964, and with the British West Indies Temporary Alien Labor Program, which began in 1943. Both of these programs were established under the Emergency Farm Labor Supply Program to address real and perceived labor shortages in agriculture during World War II. Both programs were structurally similar to programs employed to import colonial subjects, primarily Puerto Ricans, for U.S. agriculture. Although the U.S. Departments of Labor and Agriculture oversaw the operation of the programs during the war, control over guest workers’ labor and the conditions of their employment increasingly became the responsibility of their employers and employer associations following the war. Nevertheless, U.S. government support for guest worker programs has been steady, if uneven, since the 1940s, and most new legislation addressing immigration reform has included some sort of guest worker provision. Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, for example, H-2A and H-2B visas were created to import workers primarily from Latin America and the Caribbean for low-wage work in agricultural (H-2A) and non-agricultural (H-2B) seasonal employment. In the Immigration Act of 1990, H-1 visas were added to import guest workers, primarily from India and China, for work in computer programming, higher education, and other skilled occupations. Although an unknown portion of the guest worker labor force resists the terms of their employment and slips into the shadow economy as undocumented immigrants, the number of legal guest workers in the United States has increased into the 21st century.
Irish and American histories are intertwined as a result of migration, mercantile and economic connections, and diplomatic pressures from governments and nonstate actors. The two fledgling nations were brought together by their shared histories of British colonialism, but America’s growth as an imperial power complicated any natural allegiances that were invoked across the centuries. Since the beginnings of that relationship in 1607 with the arrival of Irish migrants in America (both voluntary and forced) and the building of a transatlantic linen trade, the meaning of “Irish” has fluctuated in America, mirroring changes in both migrant patterns and international politics. The 19th century saw Ireland enter into Anglo-American diplomacy on both sides of the Atlantic, while the 20th century saw Ireland emerge from Britain’s shadow with the establishment of separate diplomatic connections between the United States and Ireland. American recognition of the newly independent Irish Free State was vital for Irish politicians on the world stage; however the Free State’s increasingly isolationist policies during the 1930s to 1950s alienated its American allies. The final decade of the century, however, brought America and Ireland (including both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) closer than ever before. Throughout their histories, the Irish diasporas—both Protestant and Catholic—in America have played vital roles as pressure groups and fundraisers. The history of American–Irish relations therefore brings together governmental and nonstate organizations and unites political, diplomatic, social, cultural, and economic histories which are still relevant today.
The Puritans were a group of people loosely defined through their shared adherence to the reformed theological tradition, largely following the work of John Calvin. Beginning in the 16th century, the Puritan movement took root in specific regional locales throughout Germany, Scotland, the Low Countries, and England. Following Queen Elizabeth’s settlement of 1559, which mandated conformity with the Church of England, the church’s authority splintered further as Protestants clashed with the episcopal polity, or church hierarchy. Religious conflict intensified from the 1580s through the end of James I’s reign, through repeated appeals to antiquity and patristics (writings from early Christian fathers) as pleas for further reform. Religious tension and persecution under the repressive regime of Archbishop Laud caused Puritans to leave England in search of new lands and communities. When the Pilgrims and Puritans migrated to North America in 1620 and 1630, respectively, they did so with the intention of contesting the power of the crown to mandate religious uniformity. They believed in a Calvinist-based religion that espoused a separation of church and state, but that also privileged the spiritual authority of the individual to such a degree as to leave no clear signposts about how the disparate individuals practicing these faiths should form communities. Puritan congregations in New England allowed laymen as well as women new forms of spiritual self-discovery as they orally translated the evidence of grace recorded upon their souls into communal knowledge and a corporate identity that fashioned itself as a spiritual beacon to the world. Missionary encounters soon redefined Puritan faith, theology, and pious practices. Puritan identity in 17th century North America reconstituted itself through a particular confluence of interaction with foreign landscapes, native tribes, Africans, and new models of community and social interaction.
Southeast Asian Americans
Chia Youyee Vang
In geopolitical terms, the Asian sub-region Southeast Asia consists of ten countries that are organized under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Current member nations include Brunei Darussalam, Kingdom of Cambodia, Republic of Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos), Malaysia, Republic of the Union of Myanmar (formerly Burma), Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Kingdom of Thailand, and Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The term Southeast Asian Americans has been shaped largely by the flow of refugees from the American War in Vietnam’ however, Americans with origins in Southeast Asia have much more diverse migration and settlement experiences that are intricately tied to the complex histories of colonialism, imperialism, and war from the late 19th through the end of the 20th century. A commonality across Southeast Asian American groups today is that their immigration history resulted primarily from the political and military involvement of the United States in the region, aimed at building the United States as a global power. From Filipinos during the Spanish-American War in 1898 to Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, and Hmong refugees from the American War in Vietnam, military interventions generated migration flows that, once begun, became difficult to stop. Complicating this history is its role in supporting the international humanitarian apparatus by creating the possibility for displaced people to seek refuge in the United States. Additionally, the relationships between the United States, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore are different from those of other SEA countries involved in the Vietnam War. Consequently, today’s Southeast Asian Americans are heterogeneous with varying levels of acculturation to U.S. society.
The Bracero Program/“Guest Worker” Programs
Ana Elizabeth Rosas
On August 4, 1942, the Mexican and US governments launched the binational guest worker program most commonly known as the Bracero Program. An estimated 5 million Mexican men between the ages of nineteen and forty-five separated from their families for three to nine-month cycles at a time, depending on the duration of their labor contract, in anticipation of earning the prevailing US wage this program had promised them. They labored in US agriculture, railroad construction, and forestry with hardly any employment protections or rights in place to support themselves or the families they had left behind in Mexico. The inhumane configuration and implementation of this program prevented most of these men and their families from meeting this goal. Instead, the labor exploitation and alienation that characterized this guest worker program and their program participation paved the way for fragile transnational family relationships. The Bracero Program grew over the course of its twenty-two-year existence, and despite its negative consequences, Mexican men and their families could not afford to settle for unemployment in Mexico nor pass up US employment opportunities of any sort. The Mexican and US governments’ persistently negligent management of the program coupled with their conveniently selective acknowledgment of the severity of the plight of Mexican women and men consistently required Mexican men and their families to shoulder the full extent of the program’s exploitative conditions and terms.
Chinese Americans and Natural Resource Extraction in the American West, 1850s–1900
Chinese migrants, through taking part in the extraction of natural resources, played a key role in the economic and environmental transformation of the American West in the late 19th through early 20th centuries. The desire to mine gold in California, in combination with domestic unrest within southeastern China, prompted the first mass migration of Chinese to the United States in the 1850s. While some Chinese migrants continued to mine for gold long after other independent prospectors had given up, the vast majority of Chinese migrants transitioned into wage laborers who worked for larger mining corporations or for other companies seeking to capitalize on the vast natural resources the American West had to offer. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, Chinese men became important producers in logging, fishing, and canning, and mining even beyond gold. They often brought their own knowledge and technologies with them into these jobs. Despite their organization into “gang labor” and strong community and transnational ties, Chinese workers became an exploited laboring class that was soon targeted by working-class Whites and others who perceived themselves to be in competition with Chinese workers for these jobs. The resulting exclusionary policies had a significant effect, and Japanese, Korean, Mexican, and Filipino labor gradually displaced Chinese as the dominant labor force supporting environmental and economic change in the American West.
The African American Denominational Tradition: The Rise of Black Denominations
Dennis C. Dickerson
From the formation of the first independent African American Protestant denomination in the 1810s and 1820s to the opening decades of the 21st century, independent African American denominations have stood at the center of black religious life in the United States. Their longevity and influence have made them central to the preservation of black beliefs, practices, and rituals; have provided venues to promote movements for black freedom; and have incubated African American leadership in both the church and civic spheres. They have intertwined with every aspect of American and African American life, whether cultural, political, or economic, and they engaged the international involvement of American society and the diasporic interests of black people. Parallel assemblies composed of black ministers pastoring black congregations that remained within white denominations also emerged within the traditional white denominations, including the white Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational Protestant groups, plus the Catholic Church. Although they eschewed withdrawing from the white denominations, their extramural bodies functioned as a virtual black ecclesia, or institutional bodies, even though they remained smaller than the growing independent black denominations. Together, the black preachers and parishioners in independent black denominations and inside traditional white denominations maintained churches characterized by proud histories and long records of frontline involvements in black freedom pursuits.
The Economy of Colonial British America
Identifying and analyzing a unified system called the “economy of colonial British America” presents a number of challenges. The regions that came to constitute Britain’s North American empire developed according to a variety of factors, including climate and environment, relations with Native peoples, international competition and conflict, internal English/British politics, and the social system and cultural outlook of the various groups that settled each colony. Nevertheless, while there was great diversity in the socioeconomic organization across colonial British America, a few generalizations can be made. First, each region initially focused economic activity on some form of export-oriented production that tied it to the metropole. New England specialized in timber, fish, and shipping services, the Middle Colonies in furs, grains, and foodstuffs, the Chesapeake in tobacco, the South in rice, indigo, and hides, and the West Indies in sugar. Second, the maturation of the export-driven economy in each colony eventually spurred the development of an internal economy directed toward providing the ancillary goods and services necessary to promote the export trade. Third, despite variations within and across colonies, colonial British America underwent more rapid economic expansion over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries than did its European counterparts, to the point that, on the eve of the American Revolution, white settlers in British America enjoyed one of the highest living standards in the world at the time. A final commonality that all the regions shared was that this robust economic growth spurred an almost insatiable demand for land and labor. With the exception of the West Indies, where the Spanish had largely exterminated the Native inhabitants by the time the English arrived, frontier warfare was ubiquitous across British America, as land-hungry settlers invaded Indian territory and expropriated their lands. The labor problem, while also ubiquitous, showed much greater regional variation. The New England and the Middle colonies largely supplied their labor needs through a combination of family immigration, natural increase, and the importation of bound European workers known as indentured servants. The Chesapeake, Carolina, and West Indian colonies, on the other hand, developed “slave societies,” where captive peoples of African descent were imported in huge numbers and forced to serve as enslaved laborers on colonial plantations. Despite these differences, it should be emphasized that, by the outbreak of the American Revolution, the institution of slavery had, to a greater or lesser extent, insinuated itself into the economy of every British American colony. The expropriation of land from Indians and labor from enslaved Africans thus shaped the economic history of all the colonies of British America.
The Great Migration in Context: The Chicago Experience, 1916–1918
Christopher R. Reed
The unanticipated and massive migration of half a million African Americans between 1916 and 1918 from the racially oppressive South to the welcoming North surprised the nation. Directly resulting from the advent of the First World War, the movement of these able-bodied workers provided essential labor to maintain wartime production that sustained the Allied war effort. One-tenth of the people who surged north headed to and remained in Chicago, where their presence challenged the status quo in the areas of employment, external race relations, internal race arrangements, politics, housing, and recreation. Once in the Windy City, this migrant-influenced labor pool expanded with the addition of resident blacks to form the city’s first African American industrial proletariat. Wages for both men and women increased compared to what they had been earning in the South, and local businesses were ready and willing to accommodate these new consumers. A small black business sector became viable and was able to support two banks, and by the mid-1920s, there were multiple stores along Chicago’s State Street forming a virtual “Black Wall Street.” An extant political submachine within Republic Party ranks also increased its power and influence in repeated electoral contests. Importantly, upon scrutiny, the purported social conflict between the Old Settler element and the newcomers was shown to be overblown and inconsequential to black progress. Recent revisionist scholarship over the past two decades has served to minimize the first phase of northward movement and has positioned it within the context of a half-century phenomenon under the labels of the “Second Great Migration” and the “Great Black Migration.” No matter what the designation, the voluntary movement of five to six million blacks from what had been their traditional home to the uncertainty of the North and West between the First World War and the Vietnam conflict stands as both a condemnation of regional oppression of the human spirit and aspirations of millions, and a demonstration of group courage in taking on new challenges in new settings. Although Chicago would prove to be “no crystal stair,” it was on many occasions a land of hope and promise for migrants throughout the past century.
The Urban League
Adam Lee Cilli
White and Black progressives established the National Urban League (NUL) in October 1911 to meet the growing social service needs of inner-city African Americans. Under the leadership of the league’s first executive secretary, George Edmund Haynes, the NUL established its core mission and tactical posture while developing league affiliates in cities across the country. Urban League staff committed themselves to building alliances across racial and class lines to promote Black economic advancement and ensure that African Americans had access to adequate housing and health care. These services became all the more imperative as hundreds of thousands of rural Black southerners made their way to cities during the Great Migration. Urban Leaguers welcomed migrant newcomers, helped them find lodging and employment, provided vocational training courses, sponsored programs to improve health and hygiene, and performed a variety of other functions that collectively provided a social safety system in Black neighborhoods. While retaining the league’s core social service mission, Urban Leaguers broadened their civil rights goals over time as new possibilities emerged. During the mid-1930s, as the Congress of Industrial Organizations formed with the goal of unionizing all industrial workers, regardless of race or ethnicity, the league developed workers’ councils across the nation to facilitate the entry of Black workers into the labor movement. Urban Leaguers joined the March on Washington Movement during World War II to protest discriminatory hiring practices at industrial firms with defense contracts. Later, the league served as one of the “big five” civil rights organizations orchestrating the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Through these eras and up to the early 21st century, the Urban League has retained its original commitment to expanding economic opportunities for Black Americans and improving health and wellness in inner-city neighborhoods.
The Great Migrations and Black Urban Life in the United States, 1914–1970
During the 20th century, the black population of the United States transitioned from largely rural to mostly urban. In the early 1900s the majority of African Americans lived in rural, agricultural areas. Depictions of black people in popular culture often focused on pastoral settings, like the cotton fields of the rural South. But a dramatic shift occurred during the Great Migrations (1914–1930 and 1941–1970) when millions of rural black southerners relocated to US cities. Motivated by economic opportunities in urban industrial areas during World Wars I and II, African Americans opted to move to southern cities as well as to urban centers in the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast. New communities emerged that contained black social and cultural institutions, and musical and literary expressions flourished. Black migrants who left the South exercised voting rights, sending the first black representatives to Congress in the 20th century. Migrants often referred to themselves as “New Negroes,” pointing to their social, political, and cultural achievements, as well as their use of armed self-defense during violent racial confrontations, as evidence of their new stance on race.