“I’m goin to the promised land!” That’s what many African-Americans must have thought after they said their final goodbyes to friends and family and boarded a train bound for Chicago.
In the early 1900’s, millions of African-Americans left lives framed by racism and poverty in the deep South for the industrialized cities of the North. It was one of the largest migrations of people in history. It’s called the Great Northern Migration.
Lured by the clarion call of the Chicago Defender, and the promise of jobs, Chicago was the destination for many of the migrants. It’s where their dreams took them and so they called it the promised land.
There is a statue on 26th and King Drive in Chicago commemorating the Great Northern Migration. A plaque at the base of the sculpture reads…
Monument to the Great Northern Migration ..
This bronze monument depicts a man wearing a suit made of shoe soles rising from amount of soles. The soles worn and full of holes symbolize the often difficult journey from the south to the north. It commemorates all the African-American men and women who migrated to Chicago after the Civil War.
Alison Saar, Sculptor ..
I passed the statue honoring the courage of those who took part in Great Northern Migration many times without giving it a second glance. For this blog however, I decided to take a closer look. One thing the plaque doesn’t mention – the figure is carrying a cardboard suitcase tied with a rope. I wondered, what was in that suitcase?
Probably, it contained the travelers most precious possessions: A change of clothes, most certainly a bible, perhaps a piece of jewelry belonging to their mother, a copy of the Chicago Defender, and maybe a jar of peach preserves, and a fried chicken to have a meal on the long trip north.
The migrants of the Great Northern Migration brought something else with them that would change the world, an unrivaled ability to hear the sound of music. Their genius first manifested itself as the blues, and then, in the early 1920’s and 30’s – Jazz.
It was in Chicago where blues and jazz first stepped onto the world’s stage. Chicago eventually became the home of the blues. Jazz musicians had to move on, and found a home in New York.
Some Music historians say that African American’s development of Jazz, from musicians like Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane, came from the same insights about the inner workings of nature that led to the development of Quantum Physics by European physicists such as Werner Heisenberg and Albert Einstein.