Prior to the 20th century, the African American population was primarily rural. The Great Migration of African-Americans created the first large, urban black communities in the American North. It is conservatively estimated that 400,000 left the South during the two-year period of 1916-1918 to take advantage of a labor shortage created in the wake of the First World War. The 20th century cultures of many of the United States’ modern cities were forged in this period.
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In 1910, the African American population of Detroit was 6,000. By the start of the Great Depression in 1929, this figure had risen to 120,000.
In 1900 Chicago had a total population of 1,698,575. By 1920 the population had increased by more than 1 million residents. During the second wave of the Great Migration (from 1940–1960), the African American population in the city grew from 278,000 to 813,000. The South Side of Chicago was considered the black capital of America.
The massive number of African Americans to Ohio, in particularly to Cleveland, greatly changed the demographics of the state and Cleveland. Prior to the Great Migration, an estimated 1.1 – 1.6% of Cleveland’s population was African American. In 1920, 4.3% of Cleveland’s population was African American. The number of African Americans in Cleveland continued to rise over the next twenty years of the Great Migration. Other cities, such as St. Louis, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, also experienced surges in their African-American populations.
In the South, the departure of hundreds of thousands of African Americans caused the black percentage of the population in most Southern states to decrease. For example, in Mississippi, blacks decreased from about 56% of the population in 1910 to about 37% by 1970 and in South Carolina, blacks decreased from about 55% of the population in 1910 to about 30% by 1970.
By the end of the Second Great Migration, African Americans had become an urbanized population. More than 80 percent lived in cities. Fifty-three percent remained in the Southern United States, while 40 percent lived in the Northeast and North Central states and 7 percent in the West.
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