What was The Great Migration?

Very-Old-Shoes__23644-480x244As I’ve been writing about The Great Migration, it has occurred to me that potential readers may not know what it is.  Everyone pretty much knows that when the Civil War ended in 1865, the newly freed slaves were an agriculturally based population.  Yet, within fifty years, these African Americans began to explore other options in their lives, and began to leave the southern United States for the northern United States, and places West as well—The Great Migration.

Why didn’t the former slaves leave their former plantations and farms in 1865 for the big city?  As a newly freed slave, you can do what you want to do, why would you stay?  Many of them tried to find their families, but wanted to stay to do what they were good at doing, farming the land.  And so the sharecropping system developed.  Reconstruction, although short-lived, provided an opportunity to achieve some dignity as politicians and health care professionals.  The years of Reconstruction created educational opportunities for African Americans and they tried to take advantage of them.  But Reconstruction only lasted until the mid 1870’s and but even then, they stayed in the south.  But then 1915 came.  What  made the year 1915 such a special year?

That is the mystery that I explore in the first book of The Bledsoe Sisters series—A Virtuous Ruby.

In reality, the Great Migration started in a perfect storm of years of poor crops, World War I and technology.  But  the loss of dignity that was the last straw.  When the North looked the other way after Reconstruction, de facto slavery was reinstated in the South.  Having had a taste of dignity in those few years after the Civil War, African Americans were not willing to go back.  In her wonderful book exploring the later portions of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson gives an important statistic:  “Across the South, someone was hanged or burned alive every four days from 1889 to 1929.”  Stunning.  Imagine raising your children in such an atmosphere where lynching was that common and widespread. The most widespread reason for lynching was the show of disrespect, in some way, toward a white person—sexually, theft of property, by appropriating the speech, mannerisms or ways of someone—it could be anything.

And what if there was a feisty young woman who seemed to go out of her way in her young life by continuously disrespecting the white power structure in a small Southern town.?

That’s Ruby Bledsoe—the heroine of A Virtuous Ruby.

I hope you will get to meet her some day soon.

8 thoughts on “What was The Great Migration?

  1. I appreciate the viewpoint that you bring in your realization of that statistic–my job is trying to get readers to see how that stat impacts the lives of my characters and the choices they make–not an easy task, I’m afraid! Thank you for stopping by!

  2. Ruby sounds like a very brave woman! I think talking about dates are very significant. I was stunned to learn about the Wilmington Riot of 1898 when I moved to NC and even more stunned it wasn’t taught in history classes here. Looking forward to learning more about Ruby and the GM.

    • Thanks, Julie! I hear what you are saying about the importance of dates. We can use our fiction to make these circumstances and incidents come alive for people who don’t know about them. 1898 was a very difficult time for African Americans. The “in between” time (1865-1965) has always been glossed over and writers like us can make it come alive. So glad you came by!

  3. Hi Piper,

    First off all…CONGRATS on your GH final. I felt sad for the inspy writers and was so pleased to see you get the love in the historical category. I spied your post on the Dear Author site and was bemused to hear fellow historical writers weren’t generating as much interest as some other sub-genres. I write non-regency historicals and want to see our sub-genre kick butt and be diverse! While I didn’t make it to the top 8 in GH, I did recently get an agent and attracted quite a bit of agent interest with a book set in the 19th century Australian penal colonies. If you want to get in touch, I’d be happy to share some of the agents who seemed keen to look outside the box. I’m not 100% sure where they stand on inspirationals but you sound like you have a cool concept and obviously write well. I think we historical writers succeed together, good books make readers want to buy MORE good books 🙂

    And hope to meet you in Atlanta at RWA13. You get to celebrate on home turf. What fun!

    • Thank you for your comments. I appreciate it! Your name is nearly the same as my mom’s but for one letter! I’m glad that you discovered my blog; I am afraid that I am still being a bit obscure as far as Google is concerned. Thanks for stopping by!

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