The end of the American Civil War in 1865 ushered in an era of increased education and employment opportunities for black Americans. This created the first black middle class in America, and its members began expecting the same lifestyle afforded to white Americans. But in 1896, racial equality was delivered a crushing blow when the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case declared racial segregation to be constitutionally acceptable. This created even harsher conditions for African-Americans, particularly in some Southern states that sought to minimize the equality that former slaves and their descendants might aspire toward. The South also became gradually more and more economically depressed as boll weevils began to infest cotton crops. This reduced the amount of labor needed in the South.
As a result, blacks began to head to the Northern United States by the millions. Racism, while still a serious obstacle, was considered much less brutal there than in the South. In addition, the North granted all adult men with the right to vote; provided better educational advancement for African-Americans and their children; and offered greater job opportunities as a result of World War I and the industrial revolution. This phenomenon, known as the Great Migration, brought more than seven million African-Americans to the North.
European Americans moved to Harlem
Housing executives planned to create neighborhoods in Harlem designed specifically for white workers who wanted to commute into the city. Developers grew overambitious, however, and housing grew more rapidly than the transportation necessary to bring residents into the downtown area. The once exclusive district was abandoned by the white middle-class, and frustrated developers were forced to cope with lower purchase prices than they first anticipated. White Harlem landlords started selling their properties to black real estate agents such as Philip A. Payton, John E. Nail, and Henry C. Parker. They also began renting directly to black tenants.
Meanwhile, the re-development and gentrification of midtown pushed many blacks out of the Metropolitan area. As a result, African-Americans began moving to Harlem en masse; between 1900 and 1920 the number of blacks in the New York City neighborhood doubled. By the time the planned subway system and roadways reached Harlem, many of the country's best and brightest black advocates, artists, entrepreneurs, and intellectuals had situated themselves in Harlem. They brought with them not only the institutions and businesses necessary to support themselves, but a vast array of talents and ambitions. The area soon became known as “the Black Mecca” and “the capital of black America.”
During the early 1900s, the burgeoning African-American middle class began pushing a new political agenda that advocated racial equality. The epicenter of this movement was in New York, where three of the largest civil rights groups established their headquarters. Black historian, sociologist, and Harvard scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois was at the forefront of the civil rights movement at this time. In 1905 Du Bois, in collaboration with a group of prominent African-American political activists and ...