The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations

p. 31

The Contrapuntal Narrative

“Over the course of four centuries, the great migrations and the intervening periods of stability have created a culture in which physical movement has been both resisted and embraced and in which identification with place has been alternately espoused and disowned. If those on the move yearned for the stability of place, those chained to place—often literally so—wanted only to move.”

Four passages:

  1. The Middle Passage: From Africa to the New World
  2. A second Middle Passage: From the seaboard to the interior (“black belt”)
  3. third passage: From the rural South to the urban North
  4. fourth passage: global diaspora to American cities

p. 32

“The neck-snapping discontinuities between change and stasis have drawn black people to their past and invested that past with enormous weight, even as they wrestled again with an ever-changing present.”

p. 34

“There have been many bridges between movement and place, linking the sense of what was lost to what was gained: rites of passage, aesthetics of form and color, styles of cooking and dressing, folktales and proverbs, even intonations of voice.”

Idea: Berlin highlights music as a key bridge. This would be a good opportunity to incorporate material from Spotify.

p. 43

“While scholars repeatedly revisit the debate over the assimilation of Europeans and others deemed ‘white’ in terms of ethnicity ( a concept invented for just that purpose), religious, or work experience, a people of African descent remain of one piece, primordially rooted with a presumed collective identity.”


p. 55

“The emergence of the plantation system changed the nature of slavery throughout the Atlantic”

The expansion of plantation agriculture with enslaved African labor into the Americas began in the sixteenth century.

“Within a century, slavery had become synonymous with people of African descent in the minds of many Europeans;”

English clergyman in 1680:

these two words, Negro and Slave … [had] … by custom grown Homogenous and convertible.”

“Blackness took on a new meaning.”

p. 55-56

Dutch trader from the coast of Africa, early nineteenth century:

Not a few in our country fondly imagine the Parents here sell their Children Men their Wives and one Brother the other. But those who think so deceive themselves

p. 56

“Captives did not go quietly. Resistance that began at the point of capture continued as the enslaved marched to the coast.”

p. 57

“A fortunate few” escaped from the “coastal enclaves”

“Most captives faced the nigthmarish transatlantic crossing. The depths of human misery and the astounding death toll of men and women packed in the stinking hulls shamed the most hard-hearted. Slave traders themselves testified to the deleterious effects of the trade.”

p. 66

“About one in ten slave ships faced some kind of unrest, and no slave trader—whether captains or crew—lived without fear of revolt.”


p. 177

“In 1910, nearly half of black men in Chicago, worked in four occupations—janitor, porter, servant, or wait—and some two-thirds of employed black women laborer as cooks, laundresses, maids, and other domestic servants. Everywhere in the North black workers were confined to hard, unrenumerative and often demeaning job—when they could find work in the first place.”

Cites numerous publications including:

  • Warren C. Whatley and Gavin Wright, “Race, Human Capital, and Labour Markets in American History” in Labour Market Evolution: The Economic History of Market Integration, Wage Flexibility, and Employment Relation (1994)

p. 178-179

Concept of the elite “Old Settlers”

p. 179

“Some [Old Settlers] blamed their own decline on the entry of black Southerners into Northern society. While the decline had more to do with economic changes and the accompanying rise of new racial ideologies, the elite looked inward.”

p. 181

In the 1910s-1940s:

“Economic downtowns continued to drive black workers from their jobs. When prosperity returned, the first fired were always the last hired. Those who found steady employment discovered the ladder of advancement—from worker to foreman, foreman to steward, and steward to supervisor—blocked. Only rarely did black workers supervise any but their own color.”

p. 182

If black southern migrants looked outside segregated neighborhoods for housing:

“If they looked elsewhere for housing, they confronted formal and informal prohibitions—restrictive covenants, zonging regulations, and so-called civic associations—employed by white residents to halt the ‘invasion’ of their homelands. This formidable phalanx, in league with bomb-planting vigilantes and often backed by legally constituted authorities, discouraged trespasses across what had become insuperable racial barriers.”

By 1930s (sometimes earlier): “well-defined enslaves could be found in every Northern city.”

p. 183

“Ghettoization not only restructed relationships between white and black, but also among black people … The differences in wealth and status along with fine distinctions of color, hair, and other physiological features that the Old Settlers had employed to distinguish themselves from the mass of black people mattered less and less—at least to white people.”

p. 184

Alain Locke on the “New Negro”:

self respecting, educated, prosperous, race-proud, self dependent, deserving and demanding full citizenship.

“Emerging from churches, social service agencies, women’s clubs, labor unions, neighborhood organizations, the Communist and Socialist parties, as well as fuller participation in both the Republican and Democratic parties—the new politics was quick to seize the celebratory rhetoric of American democracy and turn it against the American apartheid system.”

p. 186

“Between December 1941 and August 1942, the number of black men employed in manufacturing jumped from 500,000 to 1.2 million.”

p. 191

“Between 1940 and 1960, the nuber of black women clerical and sales workers increased from less than 2 percent to almost 11 percent. Employers, who once denied black workers any sort of visibility lest they too be tainted, suddenly placed black men and women in the most visible positions.”

p. 195

“Changes set in motion by the CIvil RIghts movement—the dismantling of legal segregation and the new growth of the black middle class—allowed some black people to leave the inner city. Most moved to close-in suburbs which soon became as segregated as the inner city. The number of black men and women living in suurbs totaled some seven million by the middle of the 198s, more than double the number a decade earlier.”

p. 195-197

Describes the “full identification of black life with the city”