Hidden History: The Great African American Migration North

Goin’ to Chicago

Directed by George King (1994)

Film Review

This documentary is about the great African American migration to Northern cities that occurred between 1915 and the late sixties. Roughly 1.5 million African Americans left the South after 1915. This related partly to the mechanization of the cotton harvest (and major job losses) and partly to extreme terrorist violence Blacks faced from white supremacy groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

Blacks from Texas and Louisiana tended to migrate to California; those from Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas to Eastern cities; and those from Mississippi to Chicago.

Most settled in Chicago, filling thousands of job openings in the stockyards, steel mills and factories and with the railroads.

Owing to a shortage of housing, many landlords divided up their apartments and charged higher rents than for spacious apartments on Chicago’s exclusive North Shore. Redlining* and restrictive covenants** made it extremely difficult for African Americans to purchase homes. The first Blacks to move into white neighborhoods were subject to rock throwing and other forms of intimidation.

Mayor Richard Daly built the Cabrini Green high rise in 1962 to accommodate new migrants. Owing to tenancy conditions forcing people to move out when their incomes improved, by the late sixties Cabrini Green and similar subsidized high rises had become the new ghetto. To make matters worse, between 1975 and 1990 more than half Chicago’s manufacturing jobs moved to the non-union South or overseas.

*Refusal of banks to grant mortgages to African Americans

**Conditions in property titles that prevented homeowners from selling their homes on to African Americans.

The full film can be viewed free on Kanopy.