Wilkerson: When the migration began in 1915, 90 percent of all African Americans were living in the South. By the end of the Great Migration in 1970, 47 percent — nearly half — were living outside the South.
Captions by Joel Dreyfuss
Wilkerson: The migration began because Northern industry needed labor during World War I. The war cut off, to a great degree, immigration from Europe, which had been providing the labor. Northern industry began looking to find where they could get cheap labor to fill the spaces left over by the immigrants. They were looking for the cheapest labor available, and they found African Americans and began recruiting them.
Wilkerson: When it came to the motivation for the Great Migration, I think the overarching desire was to escape a caste system that controlled their lives from the moment they awoke in the morning to the time they went to sleep.
Ida Mae Gladney, a former sharecropper's wife, who migrated with her family from Mississippi to Chicago in 1938.
Ida Mae Gladney with flowers in her hair in Chicago.
Ida Mae Gladney migrated with her family from Mississippi to Chicago in 1938. This photo was taken in October 1998, 60 years after her migration, during a return trip to the old country. She had never liked picking cotton and was not good at it, but she saw a cotton field and spontaneously wanted to see what it was like to pick again — now that she didn't have to.
This picture was taken in 1945, across from the R Sreet rowhouse of a second cousin, where Wilkinson's mother (on the left) stayed upon arriving in Washington, D.C., from Rome, Ga. With her is her childhood friend Mary Weaver, who also migrated to Washington from Rome. This is the photo that inspired the book.
This is a picture of Wilkerson's father in flight gear from late World War II in Tuskegee, Ala., where he was stationed as a Tuskegee Airman. He later migrated to Washington, D.C., where he met and married her mother.
Wilkerson: George Starling had been a picker in the groves who endangered his life leading strikes for fairer wages in those groves. Reuben Blye was a longtime friend and a picking-crew foreman who stood up to the packinghouses during Jim Crow. Both men migrated to New York — George staying there the rest of his life, Reuben returning in old age. This photo was taken when George returned to Florida for a high school reunion, and the men took me on a tour of the old places they had worked in, lived in and left.
Dr. Robert P. Foster, a Los Angeles surgeon, migrated with great difficulty from Monroe, La., to Los Angeles in 1953. This picture was taken at party he gave himself at his grand home in L.A. in 1970, celebrating his having arrived and succeeded in his new adopted land.
Wilkerson's mother on Meridian Hill in Washington, D.C., a park popular with migrants up from the South. Photo taken in the late 1940s.
Wilkerson's mother (center) at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in the late 1940s, with a childhood friend from Georgia on the left and another migrant friend from the South on the right.
The migrants, mostly poor, traveled light. Their luggage was sparse, but their hearts were heavy. Their heads were full of memories and the rich culture they brought with them. And they were hopeful, determined to make a new life "up North."