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The Great Migration

An important element of African American society a mid-century is the Great Migration. Beginning around the time of the First World War, millions of African Americans left the Jim Crow South for the comparatively greener pastures of the urban North. Indeed, Hall of Fame players Jackie Robinson and Monte Irvin made this journey as children. But while the Great Migrants found greater economic opportunity and social freedom in the North, they did not gain full access to white society. Deprived access to the social networks which had long sustained black culture, these African Americans, in some cases pioneers and maroons in others, initially failed to translate their greater freedoms into Major League caliber players.

The following chart shows the states which lost the greatest percentage of their black population between the 1920 and 1970 censuses.

great migration black losses

An average taken of the map coordinates of the birthplaces of each player further illustrates this point; the average white player ("w" on the map) was born in central Illinois while the average African American player ("b" on the map) was born in northern Mississippi. There remains a level of ambiguity however as the average player whose ethnicity could not be determined ("u" on the map) was born in central Ohio.


View Averages in a larger map

The following chart shows the states which gained the greatest percentage of their population between the 1920 and 1970s censuses.

great migration black gains

The Great Migration and the general shift of American population to the southwest following the Second World War, is furthermore reflected in the next generation of American born players. Between 1961 and 1970 however, the birthplace of the average African American Major League player had shifted to the north and west to northeast Arkansas while that of the average white player shifted southwest into central Missouri. The average player whose ethnicity could not be determined, a pool of players which shrank dramatically with the advent of television, shifted to northern Alabama.


View Average birthplaces for Major League Players 1961 to 1970 in a larger map

United States Census Bureau


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Black Diamonds: Mapping the Integration of Baseball by Charles Klinetobe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.