Category Archives: Great Migration

The Great Migration Through the Eyes of Ulysses Moore

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.”

Click here to check out a video presentation of Mr. Ulysses Moore’s story, and here for an additional slideshow.

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The Great(est) Migration

Bronzeville, Chicago.

A brief note on what helped shape the America we know today.

Few singular events shaped the American demographic so pivotally as did the Great Migration. The migration of African-Americans from the south to the north spanned several decades, mainly from around 1910 to 1930 and again from 1940 to 1970. During that time, approximately six million blacks transitioned out of the southern sharecropping lifestyle into the hustle and bustle of the northern industrial economy. Though African-Americans were considered “freedmen” (the Emancipation Proclomation of 1863 ended slavery), legislation and economic hardship made acquiring rights almost impossible. Historians attribute several factors that led to the mass exodus from the south, such as the Jim Crow laws and the influx of wartime jobs in the north, and, perhaps primarily, the invention of the mechanically-powered cotton harvester.

Suzanne C. Eichenlaub, a professor at the University of Washington, notes that black migrants coming from the south were able to increase their general income over the course of several decades, implying that the movement north was worthwhile to most African-American families who undertook the journey. As more and more African-American families poured out of the south, many of the the northern industrial hubs saw dramatic changes in their poulation demographic. According to Nicholas Lemann, author of The Promised Land, 1940s era Chicago saw a 77 percent increase in its black population.

Of course, Chicago wasn’t the only city to have a rise in its African-American population. Philadelphia, another destination for northern-bound blacks, was one of the lesser segregated of the destination cities of the Great Migration, writes Isabel Wilkerson in her book The Warmth of Other Suns. But life in the north was not always as bright as its initial pull seemed to be for many migrants. As the amount of migrants increased in the popular destination cities, so did illiteracy and poverty.

Ruby Lee Daniels moved to Chicago in 1946. Daniels hailed from Clarkesdale, Mississippi, and made the drastic transition to city life. She moved to the heart of black Chicago, known then as “Bronzeville.” Two historians of the time, St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton, wrote “Middle-class neighborhoods in Bronzeville thus became the beach upon which broke the human flotsam which was tossed into the city streets by successive waves of migration from the South.”

W.E.B. DuBois

W.E.B. DuBois studied the life of northern black migrants in his dissertation entitled The Philadelphia Negro. Whites at the time (ca. late 19th Century) used the deplorable conditions of the black communities and rampant crime to “prove” the notion that blacks were inferior to whites. DuBois argued that it was social conditions rather than hereditary that caused the black population to suffer, writing, “there is no doubt that in Philadelphia the center and kernel of the Negro problem so far as the white people are concerned is the narrow opportunities afforded to Negroes to earn a decent living. Such discrimination is morally wrong, politically dangerous, industrially wasteful, and socially silly.”

Historians today continue to research the event that helped shape our United States. America as we know it today would be inconceivably different if it were not for the Great Migration.


Senior Meeting Plan

Our plan for meeting with Mr. Ulysses Moore will be the following:

On March 14th we will be meeting Mr. Ulysses Moore for the first time. As we conduct research for our Great Migration Project we will be heavily relying on Mr. Moore to provide an in-depth look at his migration story from begging to the end. Therefore, it is essential that we be sure to make Mr. Moore feel comfortable indulging this kind of information to us. We will begin by first introducing ourselves to Mr. Moore and telling him some information about ourselves, such as where we are from, what we are studying, and a basic general history of our lives. Since, Mr Moore will be telling us so much about his life, we feel he should be given a glimpse into our own as a sign of trust and friendship. Hopefully, this will make him feel more comfortable during our interview. Then, we will explain the Great Migration Project to Mr. Moore so that he will fully understand the purpose of this assignment. Then we will explain why we feel his story is crucial. We will explain to Mr. Moore that his story is timeless and will give immense personal insight into a major event in American History. We will explain that Mr. Moore will be able to offer our viewers a human side to this event, a side that history books cannot express.

Upon our initial meeting we will explain to Mr. Moore that since we want to capture his story from beginning to end the interview will be conducted and filmed over the course of three interviewing sessions. We will also provided him with a list of topics we hope to discuss with him each week. This way Mr. Moore will be given ample amount of time to think about each topic prior to the set interviews.

Our topics will include be discussed on the following dates:

March 21st: Family History, Early Childhood, Slavery and Life in the South

Questions will include: Can you tell us where in Africa your family originated from? Where in the South did you live? What type of community was it? What are the first memories you have of your mother and father? What were some highlights of your childhood? What was your relationship with your parents and siblings like? What were some of the difficulties growing up in the South? Do you remain close to any childhood friends? How did slavery affect your relationship with your family and community? What are some of your fondest childhood memories and what made them so special?

March 28th: Events Leading up to the Move, Hopes and Expectations for Life in the North, Reality of Life in the North.

Questions will include: When did you and your family first start to explore the idea of leaving the South? Could you explain to us the series of events which caused you and your family to reach a decision? Was there one particular incident that swayed your decision? Did your family stay together, or did they move to various locations? Were there other African-American families in your community who decided to leave? What were you hoping to get out of life in the North? What did you expect it to be like? Were you scared/excited/anxious? Were you welcomed? Was Philadelphia your primary destination? Why or why not? What were your parents’ occupations? What was your first job in Philadelphia and how long did you work there?

April 4th: Reflections on the Migration and how it has shaped Society Today.

Questions will include: Do you have any regrets about leaving the South? What do you miss the most? Are you in contact with any neighbors, relatives, or close friends from the South? Have you returned? If not, would you return? How has Philadelphia changed since the time you first moved here? Has it changed for the better or the worse? What is your favorite aspect of Philadelphia? If you could change anything about your neighborhood, what would it be?

We hope that these questions will allow Mr. Moore to reflect on his story and provide compelling information. We will be sure to speak as loudly and clearly as possible during our initial meetings and interviewing sessions. While our intent is for Mr. Moore to answer our primary questions, we will patiently wait out any digressions and tangents in our conversation (they may be of great benefit). We want to be sure that Mr. Moore will be comfortable and not be placed in a position where he will constantly have to ask us to repeat the questions. During our interviewing sessions Claire will be acting at the main interviewer and Kevin will shoot the video and take still photography.