Although many other northern cities received a heavy influx of southern blacks, which reached its peak in the 1920’s, New Haven’s black population increased proportionately to the increase in the whole population of the city up until 1930, when blacks represented 3% of the whole. At that time northern-born Negroes represented 60% of all blacks in the city, southern-born blacks about 30%, and West Indians another 8%.
Southern blacks arriving in New Haven came mostly from the seacoast states of Virginia and North Carolina. Those from North Carolina were from a relatively small area, the coastline from Edenton to Beaufort, about 100 miles long and 30 miles wide. Some came from the Newbern area, as they had in earlier years. A smaller group came from the deep South, particularly Georgia. This trend has continued to the present time, with friends and relatives from particular areas corresponding, visiting, and eventually congregating in the same cities of the North.
Most of the southerners who came from 1870 through 1930 had been slaves or had parents or grandparents who had been. Although some blacks from the Newbern area came as artisans, most Negroes had continued to work the land after the war, no longer as slaves but as tenant farmers or hired hands, falling deeper and deeper into debt in a cotton and tobacco economy which was at best precarious and more often ruinous for both land owners and tenants. Except for the short period from 1865-1872, these southern blacks had lived under open white domination where discriminatory laws, violence, and long-established customs insuring white supremacy had quickly taken the place of white ownership of blacks.
West Indian blacks, although including a larger proportion of skilled workers and professionals, likewise came to New Haven from a rural economy, this one based on cane and rice, which had broken down both from wasteful use of the land and changes brought about by the gradual emancipation of slaves which had begun by law in 1834. The largest group of West Indians came to New Haven from the island of Nevis. Smaller numbers came from St. Kitts, Barbados, and Jamaica. These blacks were looked on with great distrust by old New Haven blacks, and their social acceptance in the community, still precarious even today, was won only through an industriousness which brought about relatively rapid economic stability. They did not congregate together in residential areas, but scattered about the city somewhat more than the rest of the Negro population. The one area where many lived initially was the Hill/Oak Street neighborhood where rents were low and where new immigrants sought housing. They did show group solidarity, however, in their formation of clubs such as the Antillian Society and the Mechanics Lodge, a branch of the Masons.