Black America: Early 20th Century Urban Migration and Civil Rights Initiatives (1862-1930)
  1. Exoduster Movement
  2. Homesteaders
  3. Nicodemus
  4. The Great Migration
  5. Graphing the Great Migration
  6. To the Cities
  7. Niagara Movement
  8. Marcus Garvey: Back to Africa
  9. The Harlem Renaissance
  10. Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing
  11. Power Point of Black America
Exoduster MovementTop
The Exoduster Movement, beginning in 1877, was the first grass-roots movement out of the South, during which, between 40,000 and 70,000 former slaves departed the South, primarily for Kansas. Benjamin Singleton was the official leader of the Exoduster Movement. Originally encouraging his compatriots to acquire land in Tennessee, he found that whites would not sell fruitful land to them. Singleton and his associates founded the Edgefield Real Estate and Homestead Association directing over 20,000 migrants to Kansas in two years. In 1879, Exodusters began to arrive in Nebraska and within a few years spread out to homestead throughout the Great Plains. Although multiple communities were formed, the new settlers were inclined to settle in the more open areas where more land was available for Homesteading.

The testimony of Ben “Pap” Singleton concerning his role in the mass migration of African Americans out of the South plainly outlines the reasons why the movement happened, how he went about organizing the people, and communicates the pride exhibited by the Homesteaders.

Questions to Consider:
1. Why did the Exodusters view homesteading as a beneficial life change?
2. What express reasons did Ben Singleton give for guiding thousands to head for Kansas?
3. What other personal reasons can you think of that would have caused the Exodusters to leave the South? Are all of your reasons Social? Economic? Political?
     Testimony of Benjamin Singleton before the Senate Investigating the Negro Exodus from the Southern States.rtf  
     Rhone Family in Wyoming.jpg
     Ho For Kansas.jpg
     Colored People to Kansas.jpg
Link to Singleton Testimony:
The photograph of the Rhone Family on their Homestead in Wyoming was found at
The photograph of settlers on their Homestead in Nebraska was found at
The poster promoting relocation to Kansas by the Edgefield Real Estate and Homestead Association was found at
The poster advertising movement to Kansas was found at
The African-American experience as a Homesteader was very similar to that of white Homesteaders. The Homestead Act of 1862 further opened the West to hard-working Americans, allowing essentially free land on the condition that improvements be made upon it for a period of no less than ten years.

The Act is provided below for better understanding of this process.
Excerpts from the life story of Ava Speese Day describe life on a Homestead, specifically the experience of children and African-Americans.

Questions to Consider:
1. There was quite a bit of legislation at this time hindering opportunities for African-Americans, why do you think the opportunity to homestead was not restricted by the government?
2. How did Ava Speese Day's life differ from or mirror the experience of a white homesteader?
3. What sort of opportunities do you think homesteading provided for African-Americans separate from those of white homesteaders?
     Homestead Act 1862.rtf  
     Excerpts from the Ava Speese Day Story Homesteading on the Plains.rtf  
     Home of a Freedman.jpg
Homestead Act:
Link to Ava Speese Day Story:
The photo of a freedman's Homestead was found at
Many Black Townships were established as a result of the Exodusters Movement. The town of Nicodemus, KS is the most well known, most successful, and only remaining planned community devoted to African-American settlement. At its peak in 1880, the population of Nicodemus was around 600. It was founded in 1877 by a white town planner and an African-American minister and populated primarily by freed slaves from Kentucky. The harsh living conditions and climate were difficult to adjust to, but after a short time the settlement grew to include two newspapers, three general stores, at least three churches, a number of small hotels, one school, literary society, ice cream parlor, a bank, a livery, numerous homes and more.

The first document shows the original plans for the Nicodemus Township.

Questions to Consider:
1. Why do you think the settlers in Nicodemus chose to live in an all black township? What additional benefits do you think this provided the citizens?
     Nicodemus Township.jpg
     Nicodemus Map.jpg
     Nicodemus Settlers.jpg
     Nicodemus 1885.jpg
Link to Nicodemus Township Plans:
A map of the township was found at:
The photo of the town from an aerial vantage point was found at:
The photograph of some Nicodemus Settlers was found at:
The photograph of Nicodemus and some of its settlers was found at:
The Great MigrationTop
Not all African-Americans who left the South did so in pursuit of more rural living. In fact, an overwhelming majority left for the cities. Although not highly organized like the Exoduster Movement, The Great Migration drew roughly a million African-Americans from the rural South to the cities in the North between 1915 and 1920. The term is generally applied to the continued movement of African Americans out of the South following the Civil War until the 1970's. The causes for the mass migration were complex and varied. Not only did former slaves escape the terrible economic situation combined with being stuck as sharecroppers and the threat of lynchings, but also they were drawn to the better pay, a higher standard of living, and improved political rights in the cities of the North. The Great Migration can be directly linked to what is regarded today as African-American culture.

The selection on the Negro Exodus from the Southern States by Frederick Douglass addresses the situation left by the African-Americans in the South.

Questions to Consider:
1. What repercussions of the Great Migration do you think were seen immediately? What do you think the long-term effects were?
2. Why does Frederick Douglas think the Great Migration began? Does he agree with it, what does he think should be done instead?
     Excerpts from The Negro Exodus From the Gulf States by Frederick Douglas.rtf  
     The Great Migration.jpg
Link to "The Negro Exodus from the Southern States":
The photograph of two African-American men leaving the South behind is an iconic representation of the era and was found at
The photograph of the family arriving in the North was found at
Graphing the Great MigrationTop
The changes in the population distribution for African-Americans can be mapped and easily seen.

Questions to Consider:
1. Can you see a pattern in which states African-Americans from different southern states chose to live before the Great Migration began? Did this trend continue over the years or did the pattern shift?
2. How much of the shift of the African-American population can be explained by natural increase and decrease of the population? Look closely at the percentage of African-Americans in the total population? Why do you think more didn't move out of the South?
     State of Birth of Southern born African Americans Living in the North and West 1870.jpg
     Distribution of African Americans 9th Census.jpg
     Percent of African Americans in Total Population by State 1910.jpg
     Percent of African Americans in Total Population by State 1920.jpg
     African Americans living in Urban v Rural Areas 1890 through 1930.jpg
     African Americans Going West.jpg
The map showing the state of birth for southern-born African-Americans living in the North and West in 1870 was found at
The map showing the distribution of African-Americans following the 9th Census (1870) was found at
The map showing the distribution of African-Americans in 1910 was found at
The map showing the distribution of African-Americans in 1920 was found at
The map showing the distribution of African-Americans living in Urban v Rural Areas in 1890-1930 was found at
The map showing the movement of African-Americans to the West was found at
To the CitiesTop
Once the Great Migration began, the desire to head North gained momentum. Family members began to write home, copies of the Chicago Defender, a black newspaper, were published and distributed, and African-Americans began to leave for the cities at an increasing rate. Organizations were formed to cater to the integration of rural blacks into city life and wage earning.

The excerpts of letters written by African-American migrants from the Journal of Negro History express the personal reasons for wanting to migrate to the urban North by many varied Southern blacks.

Questions to Consider:
1. How much influence do you think The Chicago Defender and word of mouth had on black migration?
2. What sort of support network would you like to have in place before moving to a new city? Are there any other services you would have liked to have?
     Letters of Negro Migrants from the Journal of Negro History.rtf  
Link to "Journal of Negro History":
The poster offering help to new inhabitants of the city was found at
The poster advertising a community festival was located at
Niagara MovementTop
The 20th Century Civil Rights Movement began in western New York and adjoining Fort Erie, Canada. In 1905, an African-American organization created in the region espoused, for the first time, a modern program of uncompromising protest and demand for change. In February 1905, W.E.B. Du Bois, John Hope, Monroe Trotter, Frederick McGhee, C. E. Bentley and 27 others met secretly to adopt the resolutions, which lead to the founding of the Niagara Movement. The Niagara Movement renounced Booker T. Washington's accommodation policies set forth in his famed "Atlanta Compromise" speech ten years earlier. On July 11th through 14th, 1905 on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, twenty-nine men met and formed a group they called the Niagara Movement. The name came because of the location and the "mighty current" of protest they wished to unleash. After a very short time, many white liberals joined with the nucleus of Niagara "militants" and with Du Bois, founded the NAACP.

The founding principles of the Niagara Movement explain the organizations stance on progress, suffrage, civil liberties, economic opportunities, education, and a host of other subjects.

Questions to Consider:
1. Using the Atlanta Compromise and the Niagara Declaration as reference, how do Du Bois and Washington differ in their opinions on the advancement of the African-American cause?
     Booker T Washington Atlanta Compromise Speech.rtf  
     Niagara Declaration of Principles 1905.rtf  
     Founders of the Niagara Movement.gif
Washington's Speech was found at:
Link to "The Niagra Declaration of Principles": :
The photo showing the founders of the Niagara Movement was found at:
Marcus Garvey: Back to AfricaTop
Marcus Garvey was a proponent of black nationalism and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. He was born in Jamaica, but was very active in the American arena as an advocate of the Back to Africa movement, encouraging those of African ancestry to return to their homeland. At the behest of Booker T. Washington, Garvey launched a lecture tour in the United States in 1916. Although not a supporter of black supremacy, Garvey believed in racial improvement and separation. He supported the KKK for their racial separation causes, pursuing their support in the Back to Africa movement.
In the following selection, Garvey promotes his cause by equating it to the causes of white ethnic Americans.

Questions to Consider:
1. What do you think motivated Garvey to pursue an African separatist movement?
2. Do you think that Booker T. Washington or WEB DuBois supported Garvey's ideology? What do you think each man thought of the cause and why?
     If You Believe the Negro Has a Soul.rtf  
     Marcus Garvey.jpg
"If You Believe the Negro has a Soul" was found at:
The photo of Garvey was found at
The Harlem RenaissanceTop
In the wake of the black exodus from the South, known as the Great Migration, the Harlem section of New York City became home to a number of African American intellectuals, artists, and writers. The seminal magazine feature "Harlem: Mecca for the New Negro" in Survey Graphic summarized the cultural phenomena this way: "If The Survey reads the signs aright, such a dramatic flowering of a new racespirit is taking place close at home among American Negroes, and the stage of that new episode is Harlem."

In Langston Hughes's famous 1926 essay, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," he entreats the "Norticized Negro Intellegencia" to celebrate the richness of their culture rather than try to assimilate into white society.
The final document is a selection of Hughes poems from the 1926 collection The Weary Blues.

Questions to consider:
1. What thematic similarities do these selections share?
2. Link the Harlem Renaissance to other phenomena occurring in the African American community during the 1920's. What kinds of political and social movements correspond to awakening of black art and literature?
     Countee Cullen Heritage .rtf  
     Langston Hughes Poems from The Weary Blues 1926.rtf  
     Langston Hughes The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain 1926.rtf  
Countee Cullen's "Heritage" appeared in the Survery Graphic feature. The poem appears at:
The cover of the Survey Graphic appears at:
Link to Hughes' Poems from "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain":
Link to Hughes' Poems from "The Weary Blues"
Lift Ev'ry Voice and SingTop
"Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," (3:43 minutes) often referred to as "The Black National Anthem," was written by James Weldon Johnson and set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson. The song was first performed in 1900 in Jacksonville, Florida by a choir of 500 children that attended the school where James served as principal. The song quickly became a way for African-Americans to demonstrate their personal patriotism and hope for the future.

     James Bellamy and The TC Ensemble.mp3  
A contemporary recording of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" performed by James Bellamy and The TC Ensemble (3:43 minutes) was found at
Power Point of Black AmericaTop
Power Point of Black America: Early 20th Century Urban Migration and Civil Rights
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