The Great Migration (02:10)
In the 1930's the majority of African Americans lived in the south, where they were treated like second class citizens and segregation dominated the landscape. In the 1940's many traveled north to Chicago where jobs were plentiful and blacks were allowed to vote. (Credits)
Dream Bigger (02:25)
Vernon Jarrett used to play conductor, pretending to travel to big cities up north. Eulis Carter left his home with dreams of living in Chicago. Obtaining work as a house servant, Carter could not fathom why the white family would allow him to take care of children and cook, but thought him too dirty to enter through the front door.
Leaving For Chicago (02:32)
Black ambassadors would travel south promising a good wage, plentiful employment. Ernest Whitehead remembers his rich uncle from Chicago who gave all of his family members money. Florida Denton remembers thinking as soon as she gets old enough, she will move.
Stories from Up North (02:20)
Listen to letters from African Americans who lived in Chicago. Jarrett recalls how his relatives piled into a car and traveled 800 miles to attend the World's Fair in Chicago in 1933. When they returned, they told tales of equality, financial freedom, and a new world that captured Jarrett's imagination.
A Fast City (02:27)
Listen to Honeyboy Edwards perform "Sweet Home Chicago". To most African Americans, Chicago appeared both alluring and intimidating. Viethel Willis recalls how it was called "the promised land" because African Americans were guaranteed a job.
Spiritual Vehicle (03:09)
Whitehead describes trains as commanding respect. Wade Walton, a barber explains how watching a train travelling through town was a spectacle. Edwards recalls musicians trying to mimic the sound of a train on harmonicas.
The Pullman Porter (02:21)
In the 1930s, porters created one of the strongest unions in Chicago— Jarrett recalls how the porters would improve the conditions of traveling African Americans. Paul Robeson's portrayal in Emperor Jones became a resounding success. Over five thousand porters were headquartered in Chicago.
"Chicago Defender" (02:44)
Founded by a migrant worker from Georgia, the newspaper lured African Americans to come north, take advantage of the job boom, vote without harassment, and make more money. Tillman recalls how porters would transfer newspapers to the south in secrecy to empower black men and women. Listen to letters written to the Chicago Defender.
At Hopson Plantation in 1944, the first mechanical cotton picker was tested. James Hinton recalls how most African American sharecroppers lost their jobs, but International Harvester lured men from the South to work in factories.
Job Scarcity (02:29)
Mechanical cotton pickers caused the price of cotton to plummet and emptied plantations. Whitehead recalls how Anna Stokes offered to bequeath her land to him if he went to school for agriculture— he declined because it would never have been tolerated by the town. Willis believed he would be able to vote after returning from World War II.
Understanding Clause (02:06)
Willis went to the courthouse every day to register but was denied— ultimately, the registrar told him Theodore Bilbo denied any blacks the ability to vote. He left Mississippi.
Mississippi's Exodus (02:02)
In 1943, lured by plentiful jobs up North, African Americans left the state to create a life where they could vote freely. Porter Charles Johnson gives a tour of segregated train compartments and describes how passengers would ask about expenses in Chicago.
Traveling as a Hobo (02:45)
Edwards describes how he would jump aboard a train without detection, and talks about the people he would encounter. Carter remembers how a bus attendant would not sell him a ticket to Chicago— he was excited, but heartbroken to leave his family.
Traveling by Bus (02:15)
Willis describes how as the white portion of the bus filled up, the driver would move the segregation curtain further back until the blacks had to stand. Viethel explains how she knew she would never pick cotton again.
Starting a New Life (02:19)
Over five million African Americans migrated north. Freeman discusses the artists, musicians, and writers that documented the journey. Viethel remembers how the porter told riders that they could cease saying sir when addressing white men.
Passing Over the Mason Dixon Line (02:30)
Plumpp recall staying in the same seat, because he still considered the white man the enemy. Wills remembers how he waited the longest so he could sit in the front row— Carter finally felt like a human being. Jarret describes how his illusions deteriorated as they rode through the town.
Arriving in Chicago (02:47)
The train passed through the steel manufacturing district before it arrived at the station. Migrants remember their emotions and thoughts when they arrived.
City of Lights (03:23)
Migrants reflect on how bright the town was in compared to their home in the south. Wills recalls his first streetcar ride. Carter describes how nervous he was upon arrival, but his family did not meet him— he met a neighbor who escorted him to his family's residence.
First Day in Chicago (02:03)
Uless Carter got a job 19 dollars a week higher than his previous job. Hinton went to the baseball park. Residents discuss the freedoms they could begin to enjoy in the North.
Credits: Sweet Home Chicago: The Promised Land (01:16)
Credits: Sweet Home Chicago: The Promised Land
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