Pittsburgh v. Chicago

Pittsburgh Courier

Pittsburgh Courier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chicago Defender

Chicago Defender (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, this post is not meant to address tonight’s football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chicago Bears. Today, I want to address what these two cities meant as destinations for African Americans during The Great Migration. Certain parts of the South migrated to certain cities.  Migrants from Mississippi tended to migrate to Chicago. Migrants from Georgia and Alabama, like my paternal grandparents, held sway in Pittsburgh.                Many times, migrants decided where to go by how long their train money would take them.  However, Pittsburgh and Chicago were considered destinations for jobs– Pittsburgh had the steel industry and Chicago had jobs the meat packing industry.

These two cities had a commonality in more than just their working class industries.  They were the places where the story of The Great Migration was told throught the lens of black journalism, In Chicago, The Chicago Defender was the newspaper of note. Wilkerson in The Warmth of Other Sons, even goes so far as to credit The Defender with starting the Great Migration after some families in Selma Alabama left their homes in 1916 because of poor treatment in. Pittsburgh had the famous newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier. These newspapers were not just local entities; they were distributed nationally throughout the South.  Puilman porters would bring copies of these papers onto trains into the South.  In the 1930’s and 1940’s owners of  various packing plants and mills would put ads in these two journalistic powerhouses knowing that African American readers would read the ads and come north as a cheap labor supply.

In numbers though, Chicago was king and drew the bigger share of migrants to its environs.  Pittsburgh was the fourth biggest migration destination, after Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Although Chicago is the bigger city with the bigger national story to tell in terms of The Great Migration, I hope to change that with my stories. A lot happened in Pittsburgh as well.

However, I would be remiss not put in a plug for my hometown team. Let us also hope, that the Steelers are able to get their act together and win a game this week.

Go Steelers!


The Jungle and The Great Migration

Cover of "The Jungle (Enriched Classics)&...

Cover of The Jungle (Enriched Classics)

The Jungle was a novel that I was required to read in high school and I have loved it ever since. However, it wasn’t until I began doing the research about the Bledsoe sisters series that I began to understand the tie that the striving Lithuanian family had with the African Americans of The Great Migration.

Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906 to complain about the working conditions that existed in the meat-packing houses in Chicago in the first part of the twentieth century. Sinclair’s hero, Jurgis Rudkus, have very little influence on the horrific conditions that he—and his large family—have to live in and work in. Only by grabbing his own power through politics can Jurgis come to full American citizenship. Until he understands the role he plays in politics, he is always on the fringes of society, even after all of his family is taken from him by death, starvation and prostitution.

In the first part of the twentieth century in the South, African Americans were required to pay taxes and yet could not play a role in the political process. This powerlessness was another factor that drove people to leave the South for still-difficult lives in the North. Over the trajectory of The Great Migration (1915-1970), African Americans gradually gained a foothold in political power as they were able to vote and influence elections. And once African Americans in the South saw the possibilities for political power, they began to demand for more—right where they lived.

The Jungle reminds me of the determination of European immigrants. Their participation provided a road map for African Americans of the Great Migration to step forward and demand to be a part of the political process in their own country—a legacy that lasts into the present day.

Have you ever read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle?