Monument to the Great Northern Migration
Dedicated in 1994, this monument was designed by Alison Saar and celebrates the thousands of African Americans who arrived in Chicago during the Great Migration of the 20th Century. The statue shows an African American traveler facing the North in representation of the mass migration of people of color who left the South and arrived in Chicago and other Northern cities in the months leading up to World War I. This migration pattern accelerated through the war years and continued throughout the 1920s and beyond.
Backstory and Context
Up until 1910 90% of the African American population lived in the southern part of America, this was also a time when racism and prejudices was still very relevant in the United States mainly in the South. Once African Americans were freed from slavery they were looking for somewhere to migrate to where they can start a new life. African Americans began to move to the North and the West, The popular landing spots for the North were Chicago and Milwaukee.
Starting in 1916, and in response to demand for laborers in Northern factories in the years before and after World War I, the Great Migration was one of the largest demographic changes and mass movements in American history. In a few short years, tens of thousands of African Americans started to arrive in Northern cities where they found work if not always housing and opportunities for equality. The result was the rapid expansion of Black communities in the North while the South lost close to 50% of the African American population within a 10 year span. The migration continued at a slower pace and then accelerated again during World War II and continues through the 1950s and 1960s.
Chicago was the preferred destination for many Southern migrants, partly as a result of the work of editor Robert S. Abbott of the Chicago Defender. This black newspaper campaigned against Jim Crow laws and urged Black families in the South to come to Chicago and other Northern cities. As a result, Chicago and other cities were viewed as a sort of promised land because as stories of job opportunities circulated among Southern sharecroppers. The prospect of a job that paid cash, instead of being dependent of contracts that only provided "profit sharing" and were subject to creative accounting practices by white planters, as well as the prospect of avoiding some of the worst aspects of life in the South was appealing. As a result, millions left the South in search of economic opportunities and basic freedoms they did not receive in the South.
Once in Chicago, Black people mostly moved to the West and South Side of the city. In 1919, a lack of housing opportunities and racial tensions between white and Black residents exploded into violence and many Black families were attacked. However, most Black residents remained in the city and the Black communities of Chicago continued to grow, as did the African American influence in many neighborhoods and the city as a whole.
Far from being a land of promise, the situation in Chicago was tense but still represented a better life for many. Segregation was rampant, and even if there were not signs that formalized Jim Crow practices, the city was racially divided and Black residents in the mid-20th century were made to know where they were and were not welcome. The construction of the Dan Ryan was designed in part to create a dividing line and urban housing developments shaped the design of neighborhoods such as Englewood, West Garfield Park, and Auburn Gresham. These neighborhoods remain home to mostly Black residents as a legacy of decisions made by urban planners, banks, and real estate agents.