The Great Migration pushed many African American families north from southern states to find jobs, education, housing and better overall opportunities. The ultimate population jump that took place helped Brockton, Massachusetts become The City of Champions.
“Many blacks wanted a chance to become more affluent. They figured they wouldn’t have the chance to if they stayed down south. Many migrated north to grab hold of opportunities that weren’t presented for them down south,” Harvard University Professor Erin Battat said.
One of those individuals was Charlie Carter, a Brockton resident and member of the Messiah Baptist Church, who moved up to Brockton from Aberdeen, Mississippi in 1971.
He said some key reasons for moving north was to better his life and to gain more career opportunities.
“Me and my brother, Henry, moved to Brockton in 1971. We knew the jobs were better in the north than they were in Mississippi. I’m not saying jobs in the south were all bad but for the most part in the north they were better,” Carter said.
Job opportunities were not the only reason.
“Being able to get educated in the north helped lead me into who I am today. Also it helped me lead my own children in the right direction,” Carter said.
Carter briefly attended Roxbury Community College. There he valued what education brought to an individual and he also made sure his children understood what education could do for a person.
At the beginning of the Great Migration in 1940, Brockton was not directly affected. Many African Americans moved into major cities, where the population grew first.
“Brockton wasn’t my first choice of places to move. I wanted to go to Philadelphia. I bounced around between other towns but I ultimately ended up back in Brockton,” Carter said.
“Historically, Boston and its surrounding areas was less affected by the Great Migration than cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit. Boston started seeing more impacts once the second wave of the migration started,” Battat said.
The African American population from 1900s to 1920 in Massachusetts grew in the Boston area and other northern communities.
From 1910 to 1930, 1.5 million African Americans migrated to northern states and another 1.5 million from 1940 to 1950. By 1970, approximately 5 million more African Americans migrated to the North.
“The black population in Boston did double between 1900 and 1920, which affected the racial composition of its neighborhoods. The majority of the black migrants went to the South End. As they did so, white residents fled to the suburbs,” Battat said.
The African American population from 1940 to 1970 in the Boston area grew 13.2 percent. As the second wave of the Great Migration began in 1940 only 3.1 percent of the population in the area was African American. Those statistics shot up to 16.3 percent in 1970.
Throughout the decades long Great Migration every community affected adjusted.
Communities came together and gathered at local churches to share faith. They even enjoyed sports together as many of them contributed to local pickup softball teams.
“I played for the city softball team up until my 30s and it was a good way to come together,” Carter said.
Some people had a difficult time transitioning from southern life but they knew the move north was worth it.
“It was a bit strange at first but I knew everyone would adjust. I enjoyed all my opportunities that I gained from moving,” Carter said.