In the spring of 1916, the attention of the American press and public was focused on the Great War in Europe. Few noticed the tiny stream of Southern black men brought north by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to work on the rail lines. But following this experiment between 1916 and 1918 alone, nearly 400,000 African Americans - five hundred each day - took what they hoped was a journey into freedom.
The migration was a watershed in the history of African Americans. It lessened their overwhelming concentration in the South, opened up industrial jobs to people who had up to then been mostly farmers, and gave the first significant impetus to their urbanization.
In 1910, seven million of the nation's eight million African Americans resided below the Cotton Curtain. But over the next fifteen years, more than one-tenth of the country's black population would voluntarily move north. The Great Migration, which lasted until 1930, was the first step in the full nationalization of the African-American population.