In 1917 the following were among letters received and published by the Chicago Defender.
We want to get away the 15 or 20 of May . . . so please help us as we are in need of your help as we wanted to go to Detroit but if you says no we go where ever you sends us until we can get to Detroit. We expect to do whatever you says. There is nothing here for the colored man but a hard time which these southern crackers gives us. We has not had any work to do in 4wks. And every thing is high to the colored man so please let me hear from you by return mail. Please do this for your brother.
New Orleans, La, May 2, 1917 Dear Sir:
Please Sir will you kindly tell me what is meant by the Great Northern Drive to take place May the 15th on Tuesday. It is a rumor all over town to be ready for the 15th of May to go in the drive. The Defender first spoke of the drive the 10th of February. My husband is in the north preparing for our family . . . having a large family I could profit by it if it is really true. Do please write me at once and say is there an excursion to leave the south. Nearly the whole of the south is getting ready for the drive or excursion it is termed. Please write at once. We are sick to get out of the solid south.
These were among the hundreds of articles, letters and poems published by the newspaper and they speak to the widespread attention given to the early twentieth-century population shift called the Great Migration, that phenomenon which so shaped the cultural explosion called the Harlem Renaissance. Three observations should be made before discussion of the Great Migration and its effect on the Renaissance. First, the migration occurred over a number of decades — its first wave was the Exoduster movement (1877—90) under the leadership of 'Pap' Singleton. Second, the Harlem Renaissance, principally a 1920s phenomenon, is not to be confused with the New
Negro Movement which developed over the first four decades of the twentieth century (the Harlem Renaissance is one flowering of the New Negro Movement). Third, the arts of the Renaissance represent the entry into modernism of African American artists. Renaissance artists were far from unified, however, in matters of aesthetics, the role of the artist or the attractiveness/desirability of modernism.
What were the dimensions of the Great Migration and its cultural, social and political effects on the United States? In the period 1900-10, 213,000 African Americans were a part of the South-North migration. In the next decade the numbers rose to 572,000. Some 913,000 were counted in the decade 1920-30, 473,000 in 1930-40 and 1,689,000 in the period 1940-50. Another set of census figures demonstrates how swiftly population changes occurred. One decade will suffice to demonstrate such changes by geographical division.
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