In 1956, nineteen-year-old Ulysses Moore stepped off the train in Philadelphia after having traveled from his native North Carolina. Moore’s trek would be permanent, a sign of the times that indicated blacks moving away from the harsh discrimination of the South to the burgeoning economy of the North in what we now call the Great Migration. When examining a movement that had the involvement of some six million African Americans, it is easy to be distanced from the unique aspects of individual stories that make the Great Migration so compelling. But, by delving deep into the personal experiences of the senior citizens who took part in the Great Migration, we are able to see how such a movement pivotally shaped the demographic of the United States.
Moore’s decision to leave his home state was based on his inability to land a job as a bus driver. His passion for work drove him to the North, and when he arrived in Philadelphia, he immediately began work as a machinist. Over the next several years, Moore transitioned into the sheet metal industry, which was a job he would hold for the next five years. In 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, Moore was persuaded by a friend to join SEPTA, Philadelphia’s public transportation branch. The offer piqued Moore’s interest, as his initial passion was to be a bus driver, and he applied at SEPTA to be a driver. Moore worked at SEPTA for 30 years, finally retiring in 1999.
Though Moore left North Carolina for work, that did not mean he would never return. In fact, shortly after he settled in Philadelphia, Moore returned South in order to pick up his future wife, Verlynn. The two were wed in a small ceremony with little fanfare, and soon ventured back to Philadelphia. While a substantial portion of Moore’s family traveled to the North, his family today remains spread out between Philadelphia and North Carolina. Moore has nine siblings and an astounding 300 person extended family. One of his brothers, in fact, has 15 children.
Family life in Philadelphia, Moore says, is beautiful. He credits Philadelphia with being a great place to raise a family, even though he has had his fair share of troubling times. During one of his shifts as a bus driver, a group of young blacks boarded his bus, and farther along his route, a group of whites used branches and other weapons in an attempt to break open the doors and harm the kids. Once, Moore found out his son was dabbling in a local gang after discovering his son’s nickname “T-Bird” graffitied on a wall by their home. Moore was briefly a shop owner in North Philadelphia, but tired of the business after dealing with too many vagrants in front of his store. Business declined, he noted, because of the men standing out in front of his store harassing customers.
Despite many of his struggles, Moore maintains that he could not be happier. His determination to better his life came through in his journey to Philadelphia. He worked for almost 40 years of his life, established a large family (with four children himself) and continues to thrive in his community of West Oak Lane. Moore’s story serves as a microcosm of the Great Migration, and if he had a few words to say about life in general, it would no doubt be: “It’s beautiful.”