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October 2002, Volume 8, Number 4

Blacks: Migration, USDA

One of the world's "Great Migrations" occurred in the US between 1920 and 1970, when southern Blacks left in large numbers. Until the Civil War and emancipation in 1863, it was hard for Blacks to migrate north. There was relatively little migration in the half century between 1870 and 1920, even though wages in the north were much higher. The two major reasons for this lack of migration were: (1) very low educational levels among Blacks in the south (75 percent illiteracy in 1870); and (2) an influx of European immigrants in the north.

World War I stimulated Black migration north by increasing the demand for laborers in the north and stopping European immigration. With European migration restricted in the 1920s, more Blacks migrated north in the 1920s. The Great Migration peaked in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1940, 77 percent of US Blacks lived in the south and 25 percent of southern US residents were Black. By 1970, only half of US Blacks lived in the south.

The northward migration of four million Blacks between 1940 and 1970- 25 percent of the average Black population during this period- had important implications for the south and the north. Politically, the Great Migration weakened the Roosevelt coalition by driving a wedge between working-class whites and Blacks in the northern cities. Nicholas Lemann's book, "The Promised Land," focused on migrants from Clarksdale in the Mississippi Delta who moved to Chicago and other Midwestern cities during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1943, blues singer Muddy Waters moved from Clarksdale to Chicago and found a job at a Chicago paper factory, setting in motion the chain migration described in Lemann's book.

A US Department of Agriculture report measured the amount of Black migration from and to the nonmetropolitan parts of the South from 1965-70 to 1990-95. During this period, instead of moving from the rural South to the north, most southern Blacks moved to southern cities. The South has been gaining, not losing, Black residents via internal migration since 1970.

USDA. Black farmers, most in the southeast, filed a class-action suit against USDA, alleging racial bias in the local field offices that approve loans for farmers. In 1999, USDA agreed to settle the suit. Individual farmers who provided evidence that they applied and were rejected for USDA loans between 1981 and 1996, and that similar white farmer applicants received loans, could have their USDA loans forgiven and receive $50,000 tax free.

Most of the original 23,000 class members used this avenue for relief, and by 2002, 12,800 Black farmers had received $623 million, and $17 million in loans was forgiven; 8,500 applications were rejected. However, 80,000 full- or part-time farmers filed for benefits, and USDA is contesting many of their claims. Furthermore, the lawyers for the Black farmers missed many of the court's deadlines, so that some of the claims were dismissed on technicalities. In September 2002, USDA created an Office of Minority and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers Assistance.

Reparations. Suits were filed in New York and San Francisco against several major corporations seeking reparations for slavery, including Aetna Corp., which insured owners against injured and runaway slaves, and the CSX railroad company, which used slave labor to help build its rail lines. The suits are demanding that corporations release private archives that might illuminate their participation in the slave trade.

Elizabeth Becker, "Black Farmers Seek Settlements From Bias Suit," New York Times, August 23, 2002. Fuguitt, Glenn, John Fulton, and Calvin Beale. 2001. The Shifting Pattern of Black Migration From and Into the Nonmetropolitan South, 1965-95. ERS RDRR No. RDRR93. December. Collins, William. 1997. When the Tide Turned. Immigration and the Delay of the Great Black Migration. Journal of Economic History. Vol 57, No 3. Pp607-632. Lemann, Nicholas. 1991. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America.