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I was leaving the south

throw myself into the unknown …

I took part of the south

transplant into foreign soil,

to see if he could grow up differently,

if he could drink new and fresh rains,

bend in strange winds,

to answer the the heat of other suns

and, perhaps, to flourish.

– Richard Wright, author of Black boy, 1945

In its third meeting, the California task force to study and develop redress proposals for African Americans examined the reasons once enslaved blacks migrated to the Golden State – and them. Detailed setbacks they faced after arriving.

During the period historians have dubbed the “Great Migration” – which lasted from the early 1900s to the 1970s – approximately 6 million black Americans moved from the Deep South states to the northern, Midwestern states, from the East and the West. Significant numbers found themselves in California, escaping Jim Crow laws and racial violence and seeking economic opportunities.

Isabel Wilkerson, author of “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration”, described the movement as “a redistribution of blacks”.

“It was the only time in American history that American citizens had to flee their homelands just to be recognized as the citizens they had always been,” Wilkerson said, noting that no other group Americans were only displaced under similar conditions. conditions.

After President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the era of reconstruction began. It was a period of prosperity as some black people in different places began to establish businesses and communities; compete for (and win) political office; establish schools, and more.

But it was short-lived because of the white backlash, Wilkerson said.

In the early 1900s, racist white Southerners began terrorizing liberated blacks with cross-burns and racial violence – and discriminating against them by instituting Jim Crow laws.

There was an increase in lynchings and a sharecropping system reflecting the conditions of slavery began to take shape in the 11 former slave states.

Under these policies, opportunities for blacks were almost non-existent.

After the start of World War I in Europe in 1914, there was a labor shortage. Factories began to attract black northerners to fill vacancies. By 1919, about 1 million blacks from the South had left for the North.

In the 1930s, the Great Depression slowed down the migration of blacks. But the revival of the South Exodus, a period historians call the “second great migration,” began around 1939.

This time, California was a major destination.

As Blacks left the South, Wilkerson said, they “followed three beautifully predictable currents – paths to freedom.” The first two led to the eastern and midwestern states. The “west coast flow,” Wilkerson told the task force, “carried people from Louisiana and Texas to California and the entire west coast.”

World War II created an expansion of the country’s defense industry, according to the Southern California Public Television Network. During this time, more jobs were available for African Americans. California cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland have started to see an influx of blacks.

According to KCET, a public broadcaster in Southern California, the black population of Los Angeles increased from 63,700 in the 1940s to 763,000 in 1970. Migration was fueled largely by vacancies in industries. manufacturing automobiles, rubber and steel. The presence of blacks became evident along Central Avenue between 8th and 20th Streets in California’s largest city.

“(Black Southerners) were recruited from the North and West to fill labor shortages in steel mills, factories and shipyards,” Wilkerson said. “It turned out that they wanted the workforce, but not the people. “

The response to the Great Migration has been “structural barriers of exclusion,” Wilkerson said. Restrictive covenants required white homeowners to pledge not to sell to blacks, and many areas of large and medium-sized cities were put online to deny services to blacks.

“By law and policy, the parents, grandparents or great-grandparents of almost all African Americans alive today (were deprived) of the greatest source of wealth in this country: property. , the American dream itself, ”Wilkerson said.

“With all the testimony that I have heard, I do not see how a person of conscience, character and civility could not understand that the facts were given,” said the vice chairman of the Working Group, the Reverend Amos Brown, pastor of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and president of the NAACP branch in that city.

The purpose of the nine-member task force is to study and develop redress proposals for African Americans and to recommend appropriate ways to educate Californians on the task force’s findings.

Sanctioned from 1619 to 1865, legalized slavery in the United States deprived more than 4 million Africans and their descendants of citizenship rights and economic opportunities. After its abolition, government institutions at the federal, state, and local levels perpetuated, tolerated, and often profited from practices that disadvantaged African Americans and excluded them from participation in society.

“On these fields of sugar, rice and tobacco (in the deep south) were opera singers, jazz musicians, novelists, surgeons, lawyers, professors, accountants and legislators”, Wilkerson said. “How do we know that? Because that’s what they and their children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren have often chosen to become.

Wilkerson first gained national attention in 1994, when she became the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Drafting in 1994, when she was the New York City bureau chief. Times.

Wilkerson’s parents are both from the Southern States, but they stayed in Wash., DC, where she was born, after meeting at Howard University. It was her parents’ northward migration, she says, that inspired her research into an era that helped shape the country’s current demographics.

“Slavery has lasted so long that it won’t be until next year, 2022, that the United States would have been a free and independent nation as long as slavery lasted on this soil,” she said. declared.

James C. Tibbs