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The Great Migration

In Columbus, the majority of migrating African Africans settled on the East side. The King-Lincoln-Bronzeville area emerged as a center of social and commercial life for the African-American population.

Historical Context and Overview

The Great Migration refers to the mass movement of African Americans from the predominantly rural American South to northern industrial cities during the 20th century. During the first wave of migration (between 1910-1930), an estimated 1.5 million African Americans moved north, mostly settling in large urban areas like New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. In Columbus, Ohio the African-American population increased from 12,379 to 32,774 during this first wave.

Conditions in the post-Reconstruction South and opportunities in the industrial North contributed to the Great Migration. African Americans in the South faced institutionalized segregation under the Jim Crow system.

Public facilities and schools were segregated by law. African Americans also faced racial intimidation, lynching, and other forms of violence at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.

Meanwhile, rapid industrialization in the North provided economic opportunities for newly-arrived immigrants and migrating Americans, including African Americans from the South. The need for industrial labor was especially high during the mobilization efforts for World War I.

Although African Americans found greater economic and political opportunities in northern cities, conditions were far from ideal. Like other newly-arrived urban residents, they encountered poor working conditions, competition for living space, and racial discrimination. African Americans began to establish their own communities to break down the color line and confront economic and social injustices. African-American businesses, churches, and schools served their communities.

In Columbus, the majority of migrating African Africans settled on the East side. The King-Lincoln-Bronzeville area emerged as a center of social and commercial life for the African-American population.


  • Standards Alignment
  • Learning Objectives
  • Discussion Questions
  • Extension Activities
  • Additional Resources

Ohio’s Learning Standards: Social Studies

High School American History
Content Statement 12. Immigration, internal migration and urbanization transformed American life.

Content Statement 17. Racial intolerance, anti-immigrant attitudes and the Red Scare contributed to social unrest after World War I.

Explain the push and pull factors that contributed to the Great Migration in the first three decades of the 20th century.

Analyze the impact of the Great Migration on major northern cities like Columbus, Ohio.

Compare the Great Migration to other patterns of migration and immigration in American history.

1. What was the Great Migration? About how many African Americans moved north as part of this movement? What was the daily and monthly rate of migration?

2. What conditions in the post-Reconstruction South contributed to the Great Migration?

3. What types of opportunities did African Americans seek in moving north?

4. How is the Great Migration similar to other patterns of migration and immigration past and present?

5. How did the Great Migration influence the evolution of music? What was the role of the spiritual?

6. How did the Great Migration change northern cities like Columbus, Ohio?

Use Internet and printed sources to locate statistics showing the movement of African Americans from the South to the North during the first three decades of the 20th century. Compile these statistics into a spreadsheet and create charts, graphs, and maps to show the information visually.

Create a timeline of events that places the Great Migration into historical context. The timeline should reflect major patterns in U.S. history beginning with the end of Reconstruction up to the Great Depression. It should include developments that contributed to the Great Migration (e.g., Plessy v. Ferguson decision, rise of the Ku Klux Klan, industrial growth during World War I).

Research the development of historically African-American communities in Columbus, such as American Addition or Bronzeville. Research can include Sanborn maps, city directories (both available at the Columbus Metropolitan Library) and interviews with community members. Create a visual display or presentation to showcase research findings.