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Setting the Stage

Even though we take for granted our right to choose where and how we live, most African Americans have ancestors who were denied these fundamental rights. These individuals, who came to America in chains as slaves, were regarded as personal property. As a result, slaves were rootless, subject to being moved and sold at their owner's whim. After the Civil War, former slaves theoretically were free to go where they pleased, but realistically had few choices.

The growth of large industrial cities in the North, with their demand for cheap labor, opened up opportunities over the years. By the early 20th century, the migration of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North had become a regular flow. The peak period of this movement, known as the Great Migration, occurred during World War I when increasing demands placed on Northern industry coincided with the halt of immigration from Europe, a primary source for new workers, due to wartime conditions.

The creation of Chicago's Black Metropolis, also known as Douglas and Bronzeville, was part of this story. It was largely created by the Great Migration, sustained by a continuing influx of newcomers over the years, and put through times of trial during the Great Depression and the urban renewals of the 1950s and 1960s.




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