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Oral Histories

These interviews—conducted in the 1980s with African Americans who had migrated north during the 1910s and 1920s and with those in Philadelphia who witnessed their arrival—reveal the complex struggles to overcome racism both in the South and in Philadelphia; the search for opportunities in the North; and the worlds of church, work, school, and entertainment which these individuals inhabited. Students curated each interview with an OHMS index, featuring audio segments animated with images, GPS coordinates, and descriptive keywords.  Interviews are archived at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.

Crosby Brittenum

Crosby Brittenum

In 1920 Brittenum's step-uncle bought his ticket to join him in Philly to read for him. Working
in hotels, and later as a barber, he observed the complexities
of race and ethnicity in the city.

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Edgar Campbell

Edgar Campbell

After moving north, Campbell became active in the
Republican party. Turned off by patronage, he soon joined the Democrats, serving in politics the rest of his career.

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Hughsey Childs

Hughsey Childs

From his early days picking
cotton in the South, to his adulthood in Philly, Childs's life typifies the dramatic arc of the Great Migration, from rural to urban.

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Beulah Collins

Beulah Collins

Like many Black women
who moved north, Collins
labored in the homes of White families, paying others to care
for her own child while she
earned money.

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Arthur Dingle
Arthur Dingle

After arriving north, Dingle
was drafted to serve in WWI. Upon his return, he made a
life in Philadelphia, weathering
the Depression and achieving
middle-class success with a sun porch in West Philadelphia.

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Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy

Recruited to work for Citizens' and Southern Bank, run by and catering to African Americans, Ealy reflects on the business environment of Black Philadelphia during the Great Migration.

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Idelle Elsey
Idelle Truitt Elsey

Born in Philadelphia, Elsey worked at prominent Black establishments Brown &
Stevens Bank and the
Armstrong Association, observing interactions between southerners and O.P.s. 

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William Fields
William Fields

When the Pennsylvania
Railroad offered free rides
north to recruit workers, Fields
left his family and job behind in Texas. In Philly, he worked at Hog Island, the world's largest shipyard in WWI.

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Walter Gay
Walter Gay

After experiencing racial violence in Georgia, Gay's
family moved north in 1917,
adapting to city life. Later, Gay became an active Democrat.

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Ernest Grey
Ernest Grey

Not knowing his age or how to spell his name, Grey came
North on the free ride offered by the Pennsylvania Railroad, wearing an overcoat in July.

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Leon Grimes
Leon Grimes

From dancing as a child for White tourists in Florida, to
racial taunts on the streets of Philadelphia, Grimes lived through racism in many forms. 

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Ruth Wright Hayre
Ruth Wright Hayre

Hayre's prominent family
led in business, banking,
education, religion, and
politics. Hayre became the
city's first Black principal.

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Hillians
The Hillians

Fletcher and Utensie, educated southerners, had trouble finding work in their fields in Philadelphia, yet still achieved their dream of homeownership.

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Fannie Hutchinson
Fannie Hutchinson

Hutchinson recalls a life of
hard work: caring for children, teaching in a country school, factory work, and eventually owning a corner grocery store.

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Jack Jones
John (Jack) Jones

Jones fondly recalls  growing
up in Germantown, despite discrimination. 
His father, a foreman, helped southerners
get jobs at Midvale Steel. 

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Ralph Jones
Ralph Jones

Born and raised in Philly, Jones witnessed the influx of southerners, experiencing the tensions between them and the established Black community.

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Ella Lee
Ella Lee

Moving north in hopes of opportunity for her children,
Lee worked to give them an education. In the end, she regretted leaving the South.

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George Madison
George Madison

After moving north from Virginia as a child, Madison attended Temple University, hoping to study pre-med, but was denied entry because of his race. 

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Milo Manly
Milo Manly

The son of an outspoken southern newspaper editor
who escaped North, Manly
sought equality for African Americans in Philadelphia. 

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Joseph MarshallJoseph Marshall

One of the best civil service
jobs for Black men was fireman. Marshall served in Engine Co. No. 11, the only firehouse to employ African Americans.

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Max Martin
I. Max Martin Jr.

The son of a business, civic,
and civil rights leader, Martin
recounts his family's search
for respect and equality in
the North.

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Marie Mathis
Marie Mathis

Mathis dropped out of school
at age 16 to help support her family. Rather than do domestic work, she worked in tobacco
and clothing factories.

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Lillie McKnight
Lillie McKnight

Moving from Columbia, South Carolina, McKnight saved
money to bring her children
North. She credits her success
to responsibility and faith.

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Russell Minton
Russell Minton

As a physician, Dr. Minton experienced racism, initially confined to only Black hospitals, before government hospitals
mandated desegregation.

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Abraham Moses
Abraham Moses

After moving from Alabama
in 1916, Moses spent his
career as a stevedore, handling
cargo on the waterfront as an active union member.

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James Plunkett
James Plunkett

Plunkett's tales of the "sporting
life" in Black Philadelphia's
clubs and numbers halls
contrast with his upbringing in Virginia, where his mother
taught him to stay out of trouble.

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Louise Smith Interview
Louise Smith

The child of former slaves,
at age fifteen Smith moved north, finding solace in the "church that welcomed 10,000 strangers," Philadelphia's
Tindley Temple.

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William Steffens Interview
William Steffens

Exposed to racial violence at
an early age, Steffens snuck
on to a ship and moved north in
search of opportunity, yet found entrenched racism in the
building trades. 

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John Summers's Interview
John (J.B.) Summers

Working behind the scenes in politics, Summers epitomized
the 1930s' political realignment as African Americans left the party of Lincoln to vote Democratic.

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Charles Vance
Charles Vance

Vance recalls laboring his way north, through levee camps, railroad cars, tramp ships, and coke ovens, eventually finding his way to Philadelphia, where he made his home.

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HArvey Wilson
Harvey Wilson

Interviewed at age 102, Wilson recalls his life of continual hope for better jobs and better pay.
In this interview at the end of
his life, he regretted his move North.

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Minnie Whitney
Minnie Whitney

Whitney ran away from home
in 1919, arriving in Philadelphia
where she worked in domestic service for a harsh and demanding woman, leaving
her family's farm behind. 

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Kitty Woodard
Kitty Woodard

Woodard learned local politics from her parents, who served
as "committee men." Marrying
the publisher of the Philadelphia Independent, she used the platform to advance civil rights.

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Bessie Yancey
Bessie Yancey

Growing up in Virginia, Yancey disliked White businessmen taking advantage of her father when he sold produce at market. In 1918, she moved north, leaving farmwork behind.

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