by Barbara Kensey
One of America’s most significant stories – the impact of the mass movement of African Americans from the rural south to the urban north between 1916 and 1970 – will be explored, discussed and celebrated in a yearlong, statewide commemoration of the 2016 Great Migration Centennial.
Organized by the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Commission (BMNHAC) the Great Migration Centennial is authorized by Senate Joint Resolution 0001 of the 98th Illinois General Assembly “to promote a deeper knowledge, understanding and engagement in the life and times of the African American migration experience.”
The legislation was originally introduced by State Representative Ken Dunkin (5th District) and Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter (3rd District). The theme of the celebration is “Creating a New Promise.”
“Just as African Americans came to Chicago seeking new opportunities and transformed the landscape and the culture during the Great Migration, this celebration is designed to “create a new promise” through job creation, tourism, economic and leadership development,” said Paula Robinson, managing partner of the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Commission and Centennial project manager.
Early in the 19th century, large numbers of African Americans began to flee the oppressive conditions of the South for the promise of economic opportunity up North. This mass exodus was also attributable to Robert Sengstacke Abbott, publisher of the Chicago Defender newspaper whose bold headlines enticed the Southerners with promises of good paying jobs and social freedoms up north. Pullman Porters played a key role by distributing the papers throughout the south. Over five decades, 7 million African Americans left the South with over half a million settling in Chicago. By the mid-20th century what had been a marginalized population in Chicago emerged as a powerful force in the city’s political, economic, and cultural life.
The Great Migration Centennial Celebration features live performances, special events, major exhibitions, workshops, humanities programs, symposiums, conferences and relevant curriculum offerings. A calendar highlighting Migration themed events is available on-line at www.greatmigrationcentennial.org or on facebook at 2016greatmigrationcentennial.
The Great Migration Centennial is presented by the 2016 Great Migration Centennial Commemorative Commission and the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Commission in cooperation with the Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events (DCASE), Choose Chicago, city departments, Chicago’s cultural, educational, and civic organizations and other businesses and philanthropic organizations.
“We invite the entire city of Chicago, State of Illinois and visitors to the city to take part in this celebration,” Robinson said. “It is our desire that both children and adults will be challenged by this Commemoration to make choices today that will define the way we live for the next century.”
GREAT MIGRATION HIGHLIGHTS: APRIL 2016
MUSE 2016 Festival: Migrations & Journeys – Pegasus Theatre Chicago Apr. 2–10, 2016 | web.ovationtix.com
“Stylin’ in Bronzeville” – Great Migration Centennial Commission Sun Apr. 10, 2016 – Black Womens Expo – www.greatmigrationcentennial.org
“Migration” by Michael Bradford – eta Creative Arts Foundation Apr 29 – Jun. 19, 2016 www.etacreativearts.org
Introducing Black History into the Schools – Black Chicago History Forum Sat April 30, 2016 l blackchicagohistory.org