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Kids' Corner: 1910-30 saw huge black migration

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

As black Americans in the South faced a poor economy and few opportunities, the years between 1916 and 1930 saw a wave of them migrating northward.

"The Great Migration" resulted in a large increase in Pittsburgh's black population. According to historian Peter Gottlieb, between 1910 and 1930 Pittsburgh's black population grew from 25,623 to 54,983. In the North, industrial cities such as Pittsburgh offered black workers opportunity and hope for a better life.

They found jobs in iron and steel mills, and although they were almost exclusively unskilled workers, they were still able to make between $3.50 and $5 per eight-hour day. This was a great improvement from their earnings in Southern cities, where $2.50 for a 12-hour day was considered a good wage. Black iron and steel workers increased during this period from 786 to 2,853.

The new residents also formed communities, establishing clubs, churches, baseball teams and newspapers. However, the sudden boom in the black population also caused an increase in racial discrimination, as housing was limited to certain "colored areas" and the 1920s saw local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan emerge.

Despite these obstacles, the black population made a powerful impact on Pittsburgh, economically, culturally and politically. They were pivotal in forming the foundation for the New Deal coalition of the 1930s and 1940s and the new Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Pittsburgh has a pivotal place in the history of jazz and blues, and the city's industrial expansion during a time of lowered immigration would have been impossible without the workforce of the black migrants.

-- By Amber Boucher, History Center Library and Archives intern

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