The Effects Of Migration On The African American Population In The United States

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Throughout history, many religious groups, families and cultures have migrated internationally in hope to spread word of their newfound saviour, or in many cases, seeking new a life. However, for some this choice is not theirs to make referring to what we call “forced migration.” Columbia University defines forced migration as “a general term that refers to the movements of refugees and internally displaced people (those displaced by conflicts within their country of origin) as well as people displaced by natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine, or development projects.”

The African Diaspora which is more commonly known as the African Slave Trade impacted millions of native Africans from the 17th to 19th century; relocating and isolating individuals across the globe in exchange for a cheaper source of labour in the New World. The forced migration of generations of Africans has led to a cultural and ethnic diversity worldwide, but at the cost of 12 million people and of 400 years unethical imprisonment.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade has influenced the distribution of millions of Africans throughout history; up to and including their presence and positions in contemporary America. The African Diaspora and the Great migration of millions of Africans between the 17th and 21st centuries are reflected on in the modern global population spread, specifically in today’s United States.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is the largest forced migration in the history of man. The trade enslaved upwards of 12 million Africans over a gruelling 366-year period, between 1501 and 1867, and killing approximately 1.5 million innocent slaves on the voyages from Africa to the New World (Eltis et al. 1998). This caused a drastic effect on the population spread, with over 50 African linguistic and ethnic groups being separated and relocated globally. Thomas (1998), interpreted historical literature, suggesting that the slaves captured during the Slave Trade reigned primarily from western Africa (~62%), west-central Africa (~30%), and south-eastern Africa (~8%); most of which border the Atlantic Ocean. Only 3.6% (~388,000) of the slaves involved were sent to the United States, most of them were shipped to South American countries like Jamaica and Brazil.

Slavery reached America in 1619 when the first slaves from Africa were brought ashore in the British Colony of Jamestown, Virginia. This evolved into European settlers forcefully removing Africans from their countries to sell them in North America as a cheaper and more plentiful source of labour, replacing servants who at the time were poor Europeans. In 1641 slavery was legalised in America resulting in a source of labour so profitable, that in 1660 the Royal African Company was established to ships Africans to the Americas as slaves. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, most African slaves worked on plantations in the South, harvesting rice, tobacco and Indigo. Following the American revolution and the writing of the Declaration of Independence in the late 18th century in the newly formed United States, the North found slaves to be somewhat insignificant to the flourishing agricultural economy. This led to the colonists to associating their oppression on the slaves to their own oppression by the British, which pushed for the abolishment of slavery.

When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the new U.S. constitution acknowledged each slave as three-fifths of a person for taxation and Congress purposes; seeing a decline in the use of slavery due to their increased value. When cotton picking became popular in 1793, the large-scale tobacco producing South soon transitioned into cotton production to meet England’s mechanised producing textile needs, making slave labour vital to the Southern States. Despite the Northern states outlawing the slave trade between 1774 and 1804, and the U.S. Congress outlawing the African slave trade in 1808, the slave population tripled by 1860 to nearly 4 million, with over 2 million living in the slave hungry South.

From the 1830s, the abolition movement to rid of slavery in the U.S. grew movement in the North, being led by free slaves like Frederick Douglass and white allies like William Lloyd Garrison. Identified as the Underground Railroad, free blacks and other antislavery northerners had started helping escaped slaves flee from southern plantations to the North through a loose network of safe houses. This movement gained real momentum in the 1830's when drivers like Harriet Tubman led escaping slaves on their Northern journey, helping 40,000-100,000 Africans achieve freedom.

When Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected in January, 1861, seven southern states seceded within three months to form the Confederate States of America due to the threat Lincoln’s anti-slavery views posed on the South’s flourishing cotton economy, which lead to the outbreak of the American Civil War later in April. Although the anti-slavery views of Lincoln were well known, the goal of the central war in the Union was not at first to abolish slavery but to maintain the United States as a nation. Much later, because of military necessity, abolition became a target of increasing anti-slavery movement in the North and the self-emancipation of many African Americans who fled enslavement as Union forces marched through the South.

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Lincoln issued a provisional declaration of emancipation on the 22nd of September, 1862, and he made it official on the 1st of January, 1863, stating: “slaves within any State, or designated part of a State…in rebellion,…shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Through freeing up some 3 million black slaves in the Confederate states, the Proclamation of Emancipation robbed the Confederacy of the bulk of its labour forces and firmly put international public opinion on the Union side. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation did not officially end all slavery in America — that came with the passing of the 13th Amendment after the end of the Civil War in 1865 — an estimated 186,000 black soldiers joined the Union Army, and approximate 38,000 lost their lives.

The migration of African Americas following the end of slavery reflects the effect the Slave Trade had on America’s population spread. When the first slaves landed in Virginia, 1619, they were traded with materials and resources before being enslaved as free labour by their buyers. As time progressed and a larger quantity of Africans were being imported in the 1790s, slaves and their owners would travel long journeys from Atlantic-coastal states such as Georgia and Virginia to states such as Louisiana and Texas where they would work. When the use of the Underground Railroad gained momentum in the early 1800s, many slaves were housed in safe homes across the U.S., primarily in the Northern free states, but also throughout the South.

After slavery was abolished and all slaves were emancipated in 1863, hundreds of thousands of slaves were free to lead their own lives, untethered from their previous slave masters. Both Kansas and Oklahoma experienced major Black immigration in 1878 and 1890, respectively (Johnson, 1981). The refugees from the Kansas exodus were attracted by the search for equality and better economic conditions. Although the volume of migrants cannot be verified directly, only 627 Blacks resided in Kansas in 1860 but 43,100 in 1880; the difference is a clear result of heavy immigration.

Later between 1915 and 1930, African Americans migrated to the northern urbanised and industrial cities of the United States (O'Hareetal, 1982) to find a better life and escape the harsh racial oppression of the South which included legal segregation and denying black Americans the “means of economic survival” (Harrison, 1992). During this time, migration was relatively random and disorganised, characteristic of the war-induced dislocation. Nevertheless, there were two detectable patterns within this general movement of individuals. The first was a rural/urban movement of Black people fleeing plantation labour deprivations and searching for jobs created in Northern urban settings on railways and in factories due to World War I. The second pattern was regional migration in the western and southwestern parts of the country, toward the newer states.

Labour shortages in mining cities attracted black migrants to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and to manufacturing towns such as Illinois and Michigan (Johnson, 1981). By 1915 the Black population of Chicago had risen to 50,000 - 43 percent of them were born in the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri (Speare, 1967). When people moved to the north-eastern cities of Boston, Detroit, New York and Philadelphia, migration streams of south-eastern Blacks increased; via chain-migration, family and friends followed using the previous migrants' homes as their first residences (Longino and Smith, 1991). The increasing population of African Americans in northern urban areas built large and distinct communities that have embraced everything from black-owned companies, hospitals and organisations to significant cultural innovations.

When the crash of the stock market and Great depression ravished the globe in 1929, it resulted in a decline in African American migration throughout the U.S. Moreover, as World War II revived the production of industries, African Americans started migrating again from rural areas to city centres and from southern to northern states. By World War II's end, most Black American people lived in metropolitan areas. During this second migration period, western coastal states such as Oregon, Washington and California saw an influx while central states, like Oklahoma, saw a 14% loss of their black American population.

1940 through to 1970 signified a new migration trend where African Americans were migrating back to the Southern states. By the end of 1960s, the number of black Americans who relocated to the South surpassed the number who left, this was due to two primary reasons – economic prosperity and family ties. Those who embarked on the journey – the vast percentage of them had never lived in the Southern states – migrated to places where their previous generations were based. While states in the North saw a manufacturing decline, in the South and West, industry and jobs are flourishing. Inexpensive labour, tax breaks, and cheap land created more industrial jobs in the regions and brought other financial contingencies with them. Higher living costs in the North added incentive to make a regional transfer.

When considering the forced and unforced migration patterns of African Americans throughout history, it’s easy to understand why the population spread of the black Americans is the way it is today. The U.S. Census Bureau conducted a survey in 2010 showing that the New York (3.3 million), Florida (3.2 million), Texas (3.2 million), Georgia (3.1 million), California (2.7 million), North Carolina (2.2 million), Illinois (2.0 million), Maryland (1.8 million), Virginia (1.7 million), and Ohio (1.5 million) were the 10 states with the largest single black or mixed populations – 9 of these states being located in the South or South-East portion of the U.S.

The high population of black people in these Southern states is resultant due to the high demand of African slaves in these agricultural locations during the 17th and 18th century, but also due to the Great Migration throughout the 1900s where demand for employees soared due to a flourishing manufacturing and mining economy. The ancestors of many African Americans established what many generations have called home over the past 200 years, and many have stuck to their roots in their hometown in the Southern United States.

One significant migration wave of the 21st century is that of African immigrants. Between 2000 and 2010, black Africans were the highest-growing percentage of the foreign-born population in the U.S. In 2011, the country was home to approximately 1.1 million African immigrants who settled primarily in New York, Texas, California, Florida, and Illinois, however, 21% settled in the mid-west and 15% in the Western states.

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