A Little More Freedom
African Americans Enter the Urban Midwest, 1860–1930
Jack S. BlockerUrban Life and Urban Landscape
History/US/General; Social Science/Ethnic Studies/African-American Studies
330 pp. 6x9
$52.95 cloth 978-0-8142-1067-3
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$32.95 paper 978-0-8142-5616-9
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“Most importantly, the book underscores the causal complexity and high degree of agency exercised by African Americans in explaining the mass movement from the rural South to the urban North.” —Choice
“The motivations behind the Great Migration, and indeed behind all migrations that have involved African Americans, have always been mired more in folklore and assumptions than in hard evidence. With Jack S. Blocker’s work, we get the hard evidence to show that, as Charles S. Johnson wrote in Opportunity magazine in 1923, African Americans were not scared out of the South, but left it as other migrants left their home places in search of opportunity. This is the real value of A Little More Freedom.” —Kenneth W. Goings, professor and chair, African American and African studies, The Ohio State University
Why did African Americans move from the rural South to the metropolitan North? Scholars have shown that African Americans took part in the urbanization of American society between the Civil War and the Great Depression, but the racial dimensions of their migration have remained unclear. A Little More Freedom is the first study to trace African American locational choices during the crucial period when migrants created pathways that would shape mobility through the twentieth century and beyond.
This book identifies an “age of the village” for black Midwesterners, when Civil War and postwar migrants distributed themselves evenly across the urban hierarchies of the region. Using four case studies of Washington Court House, Ohio; Springfield, Ohio; Springfield, Illinois; and Muncie, Indiana, Blocker shows what life was like for African Americans in small towns and small cities, thus illuminating the reasons why most blacks ultimately chose to leave such places in favor of metropolitan centers such as Chicago, Indianapolis, and Cleveland. Previous scholars have emphasized the role of racist white violence as the catalyst, but A Little More Freedom takes a more nuanced approach.
Emphasis upon racist violence and Jim Crow has inadvertently tended to portray African Americans as victims and their migrations as flight from danger and oppression. While not downplaying white racism, A Little More Freedom tries to recreate the threats and opportunities in urban places of different sizes as seen through the eyes of migrants.
Jack S. Blocker is professor emeritus at Huron University College and is adjunct research professor at the University of Western Ontario.