Caflin University, in the photo above, opened in 1869 in south Carolina, four years after the Civil War ended. It represented one of several small new independent beginnings for African Americans in the United States. Although the slaves were theoretically free after the war they were in reality not free in southern states. The intent of white southerns was to form a caste system labeled the Jim Crow laws that kept blacks in servitude which closely replicated the former slave days. If they stepped outside the Jim Crow boundary lines, the results were often death by hanging or being burnt alive. Fear ruled the southern blacks. A fear that eventually caused a reaction.
THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson is a profound book documenting the story of the movement of the southern blacks to the northern and western parts of our country. This migration was the reaction by blacks to the Jim Crow caste system according to the author.
In her book she says that this movement just grew naturally and individually – eventually into thousands of blacks packing and leaving the south. This "leaving" began to hurt the south in unexpected ways. The labor pool for housekeepers, sharecroppers and such became scarce and had an effect on the already weak southern economy after the civil war. If you were black and thinking about leaving you didn’t mention it. Here is a quote from her book:
There is no mistaking
what is going on;
it is a regular exodus.
It is without head, tail, or leadership.
Its greatest factor is momentum,
and this is increasing,
despite amazing efforts on the part
of white Southerners to stop it.
People are leaving their homes
and everything about them,
under the cover of night,
as though they were going
on a day’s journey –
The Cleveland Advocate
April 28, 1917
Isabel Wilkerson peels back the layers of this mighty migration revealing the magnitude of it during the years of 1915 through 1970.
She employs the narratives of migratory blacks from this period.
Her documentation is precise and through.
Wilkerson seems to spell out the real reason for leaving was not so much that jobs were available in the north and west but rather the “leavers” were trying to escape the caste system of the south.
Blacks fled to urban destinations outside the south beyond the reach of Jim Crow. We can find an example of the population impact when we look at the changing number of blacks in Chicago which grew from about 44,103 to over one million by the end of this great migration
I recommend this book highly as another part of our history that has been under wraps for way too long.