The Great Migration
Leaving the South
Migration Fever
The Journey North
Networks and Media
A New Industrial Landscape
Hard Life in the North
The Red Summer
The Quest for Political Power

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More influential than the agents in the long run were family and friends. Prospective migrants financed their tickets by selling all their possessions. When that was not enough, families pooled their resources to send one member. With the breadwinner gone north, other family members had to support themselves until the migrant made good. Many women provided family support by taking jobs as domestics. They also saved money to buy their own tickets. One wrote, "So many women are wanting to go . . . we can't get work here so much now, the white women tell us we just want to make money to go North and we do." Both parents sometimes went north while grandparents or other family members cared for their children.

Letters from family and friends already settled in the North provided specific accounts of jobs and housing, encouraging others to make the journey. A few dollars enclosed in the envelope lent further legitimacy to the writers' claims.

These letters were often read at services. Churches formed migration clubs to exchange information and facilitate passage north. Leaders were chosen to correspond with northern industries, newspapers, and placement services on the entire group's behalf.

Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916-1918The Journal of Negro History vol. 4, no. 3 (July 1919)Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916-1918 from The Journal of Negro History vol. 4, no. 3 (July 1919) by Emmett J. Scott
Additional Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916-1918The Journal of Negro History, vol. 4 (October 1919)Additional Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916-1918 from The Journal of Negro History, vol. 4 (October 1919) by Various

Many African-American newspapers were leading players in the epic drama that was the Great Migration. By the turn of the century, the black press was becoming a more effective weapon for the community in its struggle against racism. To respond to the demand of a growing racial consciousness, fifty new black periodicals were created. Some, like The Urban League Bulletin, were founded to respond to the migrants' needs. Established newspapers, such as the Amsterdam News in New York, covered issues vital to the newcomers. Robert Abbott's The Chicago Defender, however, was the unquestioned star.

Selling the American Dream Myth to Black Southerners: The Chicago Defender and the Great Migration of 1915-1919Western Journal of Communication, vol. 62, no. 4 (Fall 1998)Selling the American Dream Myth to Black Southerners: The Chicago Defender and the Great Migration of 1915-1919 from Western Journal of Communication, vol. 62, no. 4 (Fall 1998) by Alan DeSantis

The Defender emphasized southern racial injustice and provided African Americans in the region with information they could read nowhere else. Its loud and unceasing advocacy of African-American migration infuriated white southern commercial and political interests. Police in several cities confiscated copies, but vendors responded by smuggling them in from rural areas. Pullman porters secretly delivered bales of papers on their trips from Chicago. Copies were mailed in packages that disguised their contents.

One Mississippi county declared The Chicago Defender German propaganda and banned it. All of this intrigue only added to the paper's popularity. Though circulation estimates vary, Abbott claimed that during the Great Migration the Defender sold 150,000 copies an issue, with a total readership far exceeding that number.

In January 1917, the newspaper created its own migration event. Banner headlines proclaimed, "Millions to Leave the South. Northern Invasion will Start in Spring - Bound for the Promised Land." The article promised reduced fares and special accommodations starting on May 15, 1917.

The Great Northern Drive never happened. The Chicago Defender was forced to declare that "there were no special trains scheduled to leave southern stations on May 15th, and that this date had been selected simply because it was a good time to leave for the north, so as to become acclimated." But the forces were already in motion. Thousands of migrants, managing to scrape together the money to pay full fares, boarded the northbound trains.

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