The ‘Great Migration’ to opportunity

Don’t look now, but the Great Migration is back; it’s just in reverse.

Here is the National Archives definition of the Great Migration:

The Great Migration was one of the largest movements of people in United States history. Approximately six million Black people moved from the American South to Northern, Midwestern, and Western states roughly from the 1910s until the 1970s. The driving force behind the mass movement was to escape racial violence, pursue economic and educational opportunities, and obtain freedom from the oppression of Jim Crow.

The original Great Migration had both push and pull aspects. Jim Crow served as the push of the Great Migration, while industrial employment opportunities related to war materiel production in World Wars I and II served pulls.

Note that many of the same people who would have been share-croppers or even peons in the South went on to drive a surge in industrial production which crushed global fascism.

The Brookings Institution provided the following maps of the 1965 to 1970 period (left), 1995 to 2000 (middle) and 2015 to 2020 (right). For those squinting at their phones, yellow denotes top 10 states for net Black outmigration, dark green denotes top 10 states in Black in-migration. Things. Have. CHANGED.

Daniel Henninger wrote about the reversal in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, noting Census Bureau data showing 566,476 people moved to Florida from different states in 2017, while 661,026 Californians moved to other states during the same year. Both figures were the largest in the nation, respectively. 28,628 of the Californians who moved out to other states in 2017 moved to Florida. Henninger quotes Brookings demographer William Frey, who notes that:

Daniel Brookings Institution demographer William Frey details this in a September report. Describing what he calls “a virtual evacuation from many northern areas,” Mr. Frey writes the “movement is largely driven by younger, college-educated Black Americans, from both northern and western places of origin…But an undeniable reality, emphasized by Gov. DeSantis, is that this movement is overwhelmingly driven by the prospect of greater economic opportunity.

Economic opportunity bolstered by education opportunity represents a potent combination for growth. Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina are not only top 10 states for Black migration (see right map) but have relatively advanced opportunities for families to choose schools for their children.

The rise of Black homeschooling and Arizona’s Black Mother’s Forum leadership in micro-schooling shows the current Great Migration is not merely between states, but a broader quest for opportunity and self-determination.

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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of NextSteps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.


the loudest vote is when people vote with their feet. Away from bad government policies that cause economic downturn and towards good economic policies that cause economic prosperity.

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