Midterm Essay #2: Topic #2 Irish and African Americans
In the period of vast immigration into the United States and within it, the Irish and African Americans are very closely related in their experiences as immigrants and their experiences during and after their immigration. Their origins, flows, economic incorporation in the United States, settlement and socio-political adaptation was a little different but it had some similarities. Both groups were pushed and pulled out of their native lands by the same type of factors, and the problems that they faced were similar. The Push Pull theory and the Network Theory can explain their experiences as immigrants.
The Irish migration to the United States was caused by many factors, but there were a few major ones that caused most Irish citizens to consider the migration to the new world. The Irish came from Ireland to escape many hardships that plagued them. First and foremost was the potato famine that was wide spread throughout Ireland. A fungus ate away most of the potato crop (I, 146) and since most of the economy was based on agriculture and the potato crop was a key product, the economy took a tremendous hit. Widespread unemployment, food shortages ran rampant throughout the country. Also the colonization of Ireland by the English government did not help the situation at all. The government was oppressive and did very little to ease the problems of Ireland during this harsh time. But also outside factors pulled the Irish to come to America. Labor recruiters from the United States ran ad campaigns and sent recruiters to Ireland to get the citizens to pack up and leave for America. They promised steady jobs, high wages and a quality of life that was far superior to that of Irelands (I, 146). So not only were the Irish being pushed out of the country by hardships, but also they were being pulled into America by the industrial surge occurring in the United States, a surge that promised the Irish a better and happier life.
The African American migration was different from that of the Irish in terms of geographic location, but the factors leading to their decisions to move from their homeland to more prosperous areas was very similar. With the end of Reconstruction in the past, Blacks were forced to become sharecroppers in the Deep South of the U.S. This way of life was very hard for them. Even after being freed, former slaves remained under the control of white landlords (II, 341). Sharecropping caused the farmers to gain more and more debt as the years progressed, since they had to buy all their supplies from the company store , which was owned by the white landlord. Plus they had to give the landlord a very large cut of the crops (II, 342). This factor pushed African Americans out of the South. But the rise in industry in the North pulled many Blacks to migrate to Northern Industrial cities like Detroit, Cleveland, New York, and Chicago. With World War I the amount of European immigrants coming into the country fell. The amount of immigrants fell from 1,200,000 in 1914 to only 110,000 in 1918 (II, 342). Industrial companies became alarmed at this development and immediately sent labor recruiters into the southern states. The African Americans met this demand for labor in full force. Also a black owned newspaper based in Chicago called the Chicago Defender, informed blacks of the new opportunities in the industrial cities and that the old way in the south was wrong (II, 343). These factors pulled African Americans to the vast industries of the North.
The Irish flow into the United States was very fast and steady. Irish citizens were very eager to leave the country and head for the U.S. since most could not bear the harsh conditions of life in Ireland. Most of the immigrants were young and many were women. Many of the older generation stayed behind since they felt that they could not be any use in the new industry and that their lives and hearts were in Ireland and would always remain there. The African American flow was similar in that the majority of the people migrating were young. This generation was the post civil war generation they were restless, dissatisfied, unwilling to mask their true selves and accommodate to traditional subservient roles. (II, 344) But also the older generation, who were former slaves, headed north as well to find better lives and to escape prejudice that they endured throughout their lives.
The economic incorporation of any group of people is achieved through employment in that economy. For Irish immigrants, they found their employment to be typically manual labor. They worked on mainly construction projects, canals, railroads, and roads. They were also a fair amount of Irish who became miners. Irish women did domestic work. They were maids, nannies and seamstresses, to name a few. Also children were put to work. They would work in factories and mines, doing clean up or coal sifting jobs. But during this time, being Irish meant that you had no skills and were lacking the habits of punctuality and industry. (I, 150) So employers limited the jobs that Irish immigrants could have to just manual labor jobs that required no skills. But this would change; the children of the Irish immigrants were being educated and were attending college in huge numbers. This allowed the Irish to redefine how they were viewed in the economy, they moved away from physical labor jobs to white-collar jobs.
African Americans were in the same situation as the Irish when it came to economic incorporation. The Blacks that moved north were sharecroppers who had little to no education. But the war increased the demand for labor, which Blacks saw as a sign to help better them in this non-agricultural economy. They also wanted to distance themselves from domestic work, which they were limited to before. By 1920, the majority of black men were employed in factories. (II, 349) But the biggest way African Americans put them into the economy firmly was the development of their community in the cities that they lived in. Black business, political and religious leaders preached to the black community to take the money that they earned and spend it within the black community. Why should these dollars be spent with white men ? If white men are so determined that Negroes must live separate and apart, why not beat them at their own game? (II, 352) So they did; they built up their community with Black owned stores, banks and various other financial, and social institutions. This allowed their communities to flourish and develop. Not only did it increase the stature of blacks in a specific city, but also they would be able to move up in the job ladder and thus opening up more opportunities in the economic sphere. (IV)
The location that the settlement of Irish immigrants in the U.S. was very important in how they integrated themselves into the socio-political arena in the United States. The Irish were able to make great leaps in their economic development by settling in cities and not in the country (I, 161). This was the norm in the city of Boston. Boston was primarily a Protestant city, but Irish immigrants built themselves a network through their religion and established a large community, ultimately they would become the majority since most Irish did not want to return to Ireland and preferred to become Americans. This put them in a good position to now put them into the political sphere of the U.S. Since they were white, they were able to get citizenship more easily than other immigrants. Also they had the right to vote, another benefit of being white immigrants (I, 162). Now they could elect Irish politicians into local, state and national offices, thus putting Irish influence into the political arena.
For the African Americans , settlement anywhere from the South was the ultimate goal. The majority of black migrants had no wish to return to the South where they were being oppressed to no limits and the future was bleak. As they settled into the ghettos of New York, Chicago and Detroit, their communities developed (III, 617). But the color of the skin extremely hampered their ability to enter the political arena. They were still viewed as third class people and with the Irish gaining more power in politics; Blacks had opposition to them increasing every moment. Also not having the right to vote prevented Black politicians to come into power and attempt to put fourth reform to help African Americans. But through the establishment of the NAACP, blacks had a voice that would be heard. (II, 368) But without the right to vote, having a very large presence in active politics would be very difficult.
Both the Irish and African American immigrant experiences can be explained through the Push Pull Theory and the Network Theory. Both ethnic groups were pushed from their original homes by problems in their communities. But they were also pulled into coming to the United States or different parts of the U.S. by the country itself. The country had a demand for people to work and develop industry and the country; it was offering a better life for all who came. So these outside factors pulled the immigrants to the U.S. (IV) The Network Theory can be applied to the way the two immigrant groups built up their communities and increased their stature in the country as a group. It shows where the immigrants settled and what hardships they overcame by using this Network of people and organizations.
The experiences by the Irish and African American Immigrants were similar in some ways, yet differed in others. They were both pushed and pulled out of their home areas by inside and outside factors (economic, social or political). Their economic incorporation was different in their approach, and their attempts to enter the political arena varied in attempt and success rate. The color of the skin also determined how successful the groups were in these different areas of life in a new world at that time. But both groups had the same goal, to strive for a better life, for themselves and for future generations.