The migration years saw the emergence of service organizations to provide aid and support to the newcomers, such as the National Urban League, founded in 1911 in New York. The Chicago Urban League opened its doors in 1917, and in its first two years some fifty-five thousand migrants sought assistance in finding jobs and housing. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and similar organizations provided a needed lifeline for incoming migrants.
Besides the white-black competition for employment in the cities, there was also white-black competition for living space. Prior to the migration, African Americans were often dispersed in small clusters in several city neighborhoods, where they lived in relative obscurity and invisibility. But soon white opposition effectively closed the market to newcomers, thereby creating ghettos. Whites also fled the areas where black migrants concentrated "as if from a plague." City government, banks, and realtors conspired to keep African Americans' residential opportunities constricted.
On a single day in Chicago, real-estate brokers had over six hundred black families applying for housing, with only fifty-three units available. When the migrants did find housing accommodations, they were usually dilapidated and barely habitable. Landlords maximized their profits by dividing larger units, with no alterations, into several tiny flats. Black neighborhoods became seriously overcrowded as a result. In Cleveland, the population density in black areas was thirty-five to forty persons per acre, while citywide it was only half that.
The combination of overcrowding, poverty, and poor access to quality medical treatment - even in the North there were few black physicians and hospitals were generally segregated - ensured a variety of serious health problems in African-American communities. Working long, arduous hours in badly ventilated spaces, coming home to equally unhealthy conditions, getting insufficient rest and nutrition made migrants particularly susceptible to many infectious illnesses. African Americans death rates were consistently higher than those of whites. Children were even more at risk. A shocking number died before the age of ten; more than a quarter of these succumbed before their first birthday. The mortality rate for black infants was twice that of white babies. The deaths soared during the steamy summer months in overcrowded slums.
In some cities, the migrants were removed from other sectors of the African-American community. The black elite sought to distance itself from the newcomers, citing their lack of education and rural background. Black migrants responded to social isolation by forming communities that were comprised of people from the southern areas they had left behind. In northern cities, one could find blocks of people from the same general area of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, or the Carolinas. Throughout the urban North, the migration brought concentrations of African Americans, and the combination of concentration and hope produced vibrant black communities.
The church was the cornerstone of the community, providing not only guidance but also relief. Besides the established churches, small Holiness or Pentecostal storefront churches with highly emotional services developed during the migration. Their pastors were migrants themselves who worked during the day, and they catered mostly to the newcomers. By 1919 there more than a hundred black storefront churches in Chicago, and in 1926, one hundred and fifty blocks in Harlem counted one hundred and forty churches. The more established churches grew rapidly too as southerners became used to city ways and joined them in great numbers, leaving the storefront establishments to the new arrivals.
Other religious movements developed as well and recruited heavily in the migrant population. Their focus on racial consciousness and pride was a powerful magnet to the Southerners in search of new identities. Noble Drew Ali, originally Timothy Drew from North Carolina, organized the Moorish Science Temple of America in 1913 in Newark, New Jersey. Drew proclaimed himself a prophet ordained by Allah and mixed some Islamic tenets into his teachings. In 1915 Prophet F. S. Cherry from Tennessee established the Church of God, a Jewish movement in Philadelphia that still retained numerous Christian elements and taught that God, Jesus, and other biblical figures were black. The Nation of Islam was established in 1931 in Detroit by Wallace Fard-Muhammad - believed to be from Pakistan. He was succeeded in 1934 by Elijah Poole, a migrant from Georgia who became Elijah Muhammad.
Migrants also followed charismatic leaders, such as Father Divine and Daddy Grace. Father Divine - a Southern migrant - established the Peace Mission Movement in Brooklyn around 1912. Calling himself God, he preached racial and gender equality and counted tens of thousands among his followers. Bishop Charles M. Grace, known as Sweet Daddy Grace, was born in the Cape Verde Islands, off Senegal, and had migrated to Massachusetts in 1903. He founded the United House of Prayer for All People, a Pentecostal church, around 1919.
What the Southerners found in these movements, according to African-American anthropologist and Harlem Renaissance activist Arthur Huff Fauset, was a response to their particular needs as migrants: "It must come as a great relief as well as release to such people to enter into the spirit of a group like one of the holiness cults, with its offer of assurance through grace and sanctification, and the knowledge that they will be aided not only in their efforts to support their customary burdens, but that in addition they will be equipped to measure arms with the white man, something they scarcely dreamed of doing previous to their advent into the North."