Their painful experience of disenfranchisement in the South, coupled with their belief in the power of the ballot, led many migrants to register to vote almost immediately after arriving in the North. Having received so little benefit from their tax dollars for so long, African Americans now sought political representation. This new electorate brought with them bitter memories of political exclusion. Some had witnessed firsthand the violence and intimidation used against would-be black voters; many others had been told of them. Most, if not all, of these negative events were perpetrated under the auspices of the Democratic Party. A laborer originally from Alabama told an investigator that he could never vote for a Democrat as long as he kept his memory.
Their loyalty to the Republicans, however, did little, at first, to advance the interests of black migrants. But Republicans were more likely to field strong black candidates in predominantly African-American districts. The migrants firmly believed that electing such candidates was the key to achieving power, even, as was often the case, if the candidates were selected by a white political machine.
Chicago was one of the first cities where African Americans attained a measure of political influence. A number of black politicians rose to prominence. Perhaps the most outstanding was Oscar DePriest, who became Chicago's first black councilman in 1915. In 1928, in a defining moment in African America's political history, DePriest became the first black elected to the United States House of Representatives in the twentieth century. In 1935 Arthur W. Mitchell, a white Democrat, defeated him. This election signaled the beginning of the seismic shift of blacks' political allegiance from the party of Abraham Lincoln and emancipation to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.
Black Nationalism, spurred in particular by Marcus Mosiah Garvey, became an important part of the sociopolitical landscape. Garvey had formed the Unitversal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in his native Jamaica in 1914 and brought it to New York three years later. He drew his following largely from the lower end of the economic spectrum - people who believed that middle-class black leaders had no concern for the masses. A large part of his followers were Southern migrants. Besides advocating going back to Africa, Garvey and the UNIA promoted economic independence and racial pride, crucial issues to people who had faced contempt, violent racism, and socioeconomic dependence in the South, and were determined to improve their lot in the North.