Blacks cannot be viewed as immigrants in the same sense of the term as applied to Italians and Slavs (blacks were already “citizens” of the country). However, the trip north, as a mass movement allowed us to refer to it (as one historian did) as “in-migration.” This immigration to the north (and midwest) occurred around 1914. At that time urban industries were running full steam and demanding a labor force that was cut short by the events of World War I. With immigration slowed to a trickle agents began encouraging blacks to head north. This was an opportunity that blacks had been awaiting since the end of the Civil War. The war had given blacks freedom in a “legal” sense. However, blacks, in the south, were completely left out of everything. Segregation was complete; hate groups succeeded in keeping blacks out of political matters; economic and social freedom was also denied; blacks were paid lower wages than their white counterparts in the same fields; less money was spent on education for blacks and they were often “the last hired and the first fired." In the south blacks were treated as second-class citizens. In 1914 blacks saw their life as being worthless in the eyes of the exslavemasters. They could be beaten, kidnapped and/or killed and no authority would care.
Responding to this call for unskilled labor blacks came into contact with the same forces that had greeted other immigrants to the cities. They were seen as uneducated, unskilled and a definite threat to job securities (blacks were paid less than most immigrants). They were hated by the Klans (as were the Jews and Catholics). They were considered to be the “wretched of the earth” as were the Italians and Slavs.
There were additional handicaps confronting black inmigrants that made assimilation much more difficult than the other groups. One was the fact of their past servitude (an experience that engendered certain feelings of racial superiority that would be hard to set aside). The other was their skin color. This made blacks noticeable and consequently easier to discriminate against (the racist treatment of nonwhites, or people with outward differences, was also demonstrated in the treatment of Orientals on the Pacific coast). In addition, blacks were dealing with the mental transition from slavery to freedom.
As the European immigrant underwent the transition from being a rural dweller in Europe to a life of city living, blacks had to make their transition. Slavery had prepared blacks for a life of dependency and service. Blacks had to be retaught the basic life-skills for survival; to read, write, negotiate and to even think as a free man.
In the urban cities, of the north, blacks found themselves still very much segregated into communities that would later be called ghettos. The “planned” ghettos was a response to the hugh influx of blacks into cities where whites desired to maintain social purity in the neighborhood (or at lease slow down the interaction between the races).
As mentioned earlier, native born Americans rejected the idea of Italians being clannish or of Slavs living in selfsupporting communities instead of assimilating. The case with blacks was completely reversed. Blacks were systematically denied close interactions with Whites (on a social level). The separation or races in the schools, churches and neighborhoods, etc., helped to foster a sense of inferiority in black children. Whites did not fear close contact with blacks, as long as the superiority of Whites were evident. That is, blacks had always worked as house servants and “nannies” for Whites. It was only when the close relationship inferred a sense of equality that Whites rejected it.
As late as 1912, when the progressive movement was at one of its heydays in the fight for equality and political purity, the plight of blacks were still not given any serious consideration. When the progressives were arguing for freedom and equality it was understood that they were referring to freedom and equality for Whites.
Migration to the north was a first step in the climb to improve the lot of rural blacks. This obviously wasn’t enough to ensure successful integration into American society.
Blacks quickly learned that even though the North fought to abolish slavery they—blacks—were still viewed as being ’free’ in a legal sense only. The north had its share of prejudice and exclusionary policies for blacks. However, it was still better then the south—for blacks.