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February 27, 2021

Migration of African Americans during 20th century to Northern states

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This African-American family moved from the rural South to Chicago in 1920, early transplants in a movement that came to be known as the Great Migration. Courtesy Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

As Hoosier History Live salutes Black History Month, our focus will be on a massive movement of an estimated 6 million people during a span of nearly 60 years. Beginning during the World War I era, African Americans migrated in unprecedented numbers from the South to cities in Northern states, including Indiana.

Jakobi WilliamsAccording to an article published in Smithsonian magazine, the waves of 20th century migration began with a move of Black families during the winter of 1916 from Selma, Alabama, to the North, a little-noticed start to powerful demographic shift that also encompassed a transition from agriculture to factory work. By the time it ended in the early 1970s, "a rural people had become urban."

Some historians use the term Great Migration to apply to the entire span. Others refer to the era from the 1910s to 1940 as the First Great Migration, and describe the 1940s to 1970 movement as the Second Great Migration.

To explore a range of factors and ramifications associated with this consequential migration, Nelson will be joined by Jakobi Williams, Ruth N. Halls Professor in the Department of African American and African Diasporas Studies and the Department of History at Indiana University.

Jakobi, who was born and grew up on the south side of Chicago, will discuss ways that state and local governments in the South attempted to restrict African Americans from leaving. He also will describe the challenges that confronted them in Northern cities after they resettled.

Another African-American family heads north during the 1930s.The license plate identifies the family's origin as Florida. Courtsey Smithsonian Magazine.Since the early 1970s, demographers have documented a "reverse migration" among the U.S. Black population. As USA Today explained in a 2015 analysis, in recent years more African Americans have moved to the South than left it, returning to metro areas such as Atlanta and Charlotte.

Our guest Jakobi Williams, the author of From the Bullet to the Ballot (University of North Carolina Press, 2013) , suggests the PBS series Eyes on the Prize as a resource for those who want to learn more about the Great Migration.

Describing the beginnings of the Great Migration, the Smithsonian article notes: "To fill the assembly lines, companies began recruiting Black Southerners to work in the steel mills, railroads and factories. Resistance in the South to the loss of cheap Black labor meant that recruiters often had to act in secret or face fines and imprisonment."

The article describes attempts by public officials in the South to retain African Americans "by arresting them at railroad platforms on grounds of 'vagrancy' or tearing up their tickets."

According to the USA Today analysis, the three states with the largest population of African Americans at the end of the 1890s were Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. "By 1970, New York, Illinois and California had the most African Americans."

The reverse trend that began in the 1970s - the move of African Americans to the South - generally has been led by young, college-educated professionals and retirees, according to several sources.



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History Mystery

African-American farmers in Tennessee, circa 1930. Our mystery athlete was born in Tennessee in 1938 to a family of farmers but came of age in Indiana, where his family had relocated as part of the Great Migration. Who was he? Courtesy USA Today.

An athlete who made sports history as a teenager in Indiana was not born in the Hoosier state. He was born in 1938 in Tennessee, where his parents came from multi-generational families of farmers.

In his autobiography, he wrote that his parents decided to "join the Great Migration" to the North in search of better work. So the family relocated to Indianapolis when he was a child.

He went on to a sensational sports career at every level: high school, college and the pros. At the 1960 Rome Olympics, he was co-captain of a U.S. team that won a gold medal. He's generally considered to have been one of the best to have ever played his sport.

Question: Who is the athlete who initially came to great fame in Indiana, but was born in Tennessee?

The call-in number is (317) 788-3314. Please do not call in to the show until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air, and please do not try to win if you have won any other prize on WICR during the last two months. You must be willing to give your first name to our engineer, you must answer the question correctly on the air and you must be willing to give your mailing address to our engineer so we can mail the prize pack to you.

This week's prizes are two tickets to Minnestrista gathering place in Muncie, featuring the Bob Ross Experience, courtesy of Minnestrista, and four tickets to Indy's Teeny Statue of Liberty Museum, courtesy of Tim and Julie's Another Fine Mess.


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We'd like to thank the following recent, new and renewal contributors whose donations help make this show possible!

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March 6, 2021 - coming up

Women, the Indiana General Assembly and state officials

Powerful Hoosier women in history: left to right, Julia Nelson, Julia Carson and Virgina Jenckes. Hoosier History Live kicks off Women's History Month by exploring a range of challenges faced by women who have served in the Indiana General Assembly and as state and federal officials.

As Hoosier History Live salutes Women's History Month, we will explore a range of aspects associated with women who have served in the Indiana General Assembly and as state and federal officials from the Hoosier state.

What questions have been asked of women candidates for public office that have not been posed to their male counterparts? What's been the percentage of female lawmakers at the Indiana Statehouse? Why has Indiana's lieutenant governor frequently been a woman during the last 20 years, but a woman never has served as governor?

Not only will we delve into those questions, we even will look at the number of women honored with statues and marble busts at the Indiana Capitol Building, compared with those that commemorate men.

The latter issue was the focus of a column a few years ago by the acclaimed, retired political journalist who will be Nelson's guest in this show on women's history in Indiana. Beginning in 1991, Mary Beth Schneider covered every session of the General Assembly for the Indianapolis Star until 2013. She also covered national political conventions, presidential debates and the caucuses and primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and other states. 

During her career at the Star, which began in 1979, Mary Beth covered a variety of other beats and served as an assistant city editor; in 2019 and 2020, she wrote a weekly political column and edited stories for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service run by Franklin College students.

According to state legislative records, women lawmakers make up about 21 percent of the current General Assembly. Of the nine members of the U.S. Congress from Indiana, two are women. Since 2003, when Gov. Joe Kernan appointed Kathy Davis, a Democrat from Indianapolis, as the first women lieutenant governor in Indiana's history (her successor, Becky Skillman, a Republican from Bedford, became the first woman elected to the position, serving two terms under Gov. Mitch Daniels), the state's No. 2 post has been held by a woman except for about nine months in 2016. That's when current governor Eric Holcomb had the job.

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