home | many pasts | evidence | www.history | blackboard | reference
talking history | syllabi | students | teachers | puzzle | about us
search: go!
advanced search - go!

“Don[’]t Have to Mister Every Little White Boy. . .”: Black Migrants Write Home

The experiences of the half million Africans Americans from the South who headed North between 1916 and 1921 varied widely among individuals. Four letters by southern migrants who had settled in Philadelphia, Chicago, and East Chicago, Indiana, provided some insights into the diverse experiences migrants had in the North. Resettled southerners wrote to folks back home about “the true facts of the present condition of the north.” These “facts” ranged from salaries, living conditions, and recent births and deaths, to the score of the latest Chicago White Sox baseball game. The letters, which were originally published in theJournal of Negro History, also described what it feels like to be out of the South: "don[']t have to mister every little white boy comes along."

PHILADELPHIA, PA., Oct. 7, 1917

Dear Sir: I take this method of thanking you for yours early responding and the glorious effect of the treatment. Oh. I do feel so fine. Dr. the treatment reach me almost ready to move I am now housekeeping again I like it so much better than rooming. Well Dr. with the aid of God I am making very good I make $75 per month. I am carrying enough insurance to pay me $20 per week if I am not able to be on duty. I don’t have to work hard. dont have to mister every little white boy comes along I havent heard a white man call a colored a nigger you no now—since I been in the state of Pa. I can ride in the electric street and steam cars any where I get a seat. I dont care to mix with white what I mean I am not crazy about being with white folks, but if I have to pay the same fare I have learn to want the same acomidation. and if you are first in a place here shoping you dont have to wait until the white folks get thro tradeing yet amid all this I shall ever love the good old South and I am praying that God may give every well wisher a chance to be a man regardless of his color, and if my going to the front would bring about such conditions I am ready any day—well Dr. I dont want to worry you but read between lines; and maybe you can see a little sense in my weak statement the kids are in school every day I have only two and I guess that all. Dr. when you find time I would be delighted to have a word from the good old home state. Wife join me in sending love you and yours.

I am your friend and patient. * * * CHICAGO, ILL.

Dear Partner: You received a few days ago and I was indeed glad to hear from you and know that you was well. How is the old burg and all of the boys. Say partner is it true that T———— M—————— was shot by a Negro Mon. It is all over the city among the people of H’burg if so let know at once so I tell the boys it true. Well so much for that. I wish you could have been here to have been here to those games. I saw them and beleve me they was worth the money I pay to see them. T.S. and I went out to see Sunday game witch was 7 to 2 White Sox and I saw Satday game 2 to 1 White Sox. Please tell J————— write that he will never see nothing as long as he stay down there behind the sun there some thing to see up here all the time. (tell old E——— B——— to go to (H——-) Tell B———— he dont hafter answer my cards. How is friend Wilson Wrote him a letter in August. Tell him that all right I will see him in the funny paper. Well Partner I guess you hear a meny funey thing about Chicago. Half you hear is not true. I know B———- C———- hav tole a meny lie. Whenever you here see them Pardie tell them to write to this a dress. Say Pardie old H————- is moping up in his Barber shop. Guess I will come to you Boy Xmas. I must go to bed. Just in from a hard days work.

Your life long friend. * * * CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, 11/13/17

Mr. H————-

Hattiesburg, Miss.

Dear M—————: Yours received sometime ago and found all well and doing well. hope you and family are well.

I got my things alright the other day and they were in good condition. I am all fixed now and living well. I certainly appreciate what you done for us and I will remember you in the near future.

M—————, old boy, I was promoted on the first of the month I was made first assistant to the head carpenter when he is out of the place I take everything in charge and was raised to $95. a month. You know I know my stuff.

Whats the news generally around H’burg? I should have been here 20 years ago. I just begin to feel like a man. It’s a great deal of pleasure in knowing that you have got some privilege. My children are going to the same school with the whites and I dont have to umble to no one. I have registered—Will vote the next election and there isnt any ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’—its all yes and no and Sam and Bill.

Florine says hello and would like very much to see you.

All joins me in sending love to you and family. How is times there now? Answer soon, from your friend and bro. * * * EAST CHICAGO, IND., June 10, 1917

Dr. ——————,

Union Springs, Ala.

Dear Old Friend: These moments I thought I would write you a few true facts of the present condition of the north. Certainly I am trying to take a close observation—now it is tru the (col) men are making good. Never pay less than $3.00 per day or (10) hours—this is not promise. I do not see how they pay such wages the way they work labors. they do not hurry or drive you. Remember this is the very lowest wages. Piece work men can make from $6 to $8 per day. They receive their pay every two weeks. this city I am living in, the population 30,000 (20) miles from Big Chicago, Ill. Doctor I am some what impress. My family also. They are doing nicely. I have no right to complain what ever. I rec. the papers you mail me some few days ago and you no I enjoyed them reading about the news down in Dixie. I often think of so much of the conversation we engage in concerning this part of the worl. I wish many time that you could see our People up there as they are entirely in a different light. I witness Decoration Day on May 30th, the line of march was 4 miles. (8) brass band. All business houses were close. I tell you the people here are patriotic. I enclose you the cut of the white press. the chief of police drop dead Friday. Burried him today. The procession about (3) miles long. Over (400) auto in the parade—five dpt—police Force, Mayor and alderman and secret societies; we are having some cold weather—we are still wearing over coats—Let me know what is my little city doing. People are coming here every day and are finding employment. Nothing here but money and it is not hard to get. Remember me to your dear Family. Oh, I have children in school every day with the white children. I will write you more next time. how is the lodge.

Yours friend,

Source: The Journal of Negro History. Vol. IV, 1919, pp. 461–62, 458–59, 464

See Also:"We Tho[ugh]t State Street Would Be Heaven Itself":
Black Migrants Speak Out

"Can I Scrub Your White Marble Steps?"A Black Migrant Recalls Life in Philadelphia