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Immigration in the 20th century

Immigration in the 20th century

Roughly 18 million immigrants arrived in America from 1890 to 1920! These men and women provided America with a steady workforce for factories, mining, and workshops. Without these workers, America would have never pulled off the success of the second industrial revolution. While providing power for America's economy, these immigrants also dealt with unfair living and working conditions. The influx of new people triggered a wave of racism and nativist tendencies that would strongly influence immigration legislation. Continue reading to see how immigrants impacted America in the early 20th century America!

Old Immigrants vs. New Immigrants

Early immigration was generally placed into two categories: old and new immigrants. "Old" immigrants generally spoke English and came to America with more money compared to "New" immigrants, who came with little to no money and spoke little English.

Immigration in Early 20th Century America /Hungarian Immigrants Celebrating Sunflower Harvest, 1913, Study SmarterFig. 1 - Hungarian immigrants are celebrating the sunflower harvest in Cleveland in 1913. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Old Immigrants

The term "old immigrants" applied to the wave of European immigrants from Germany and England. This group of immigrants quickly assimilated into American culture and generally came with more skill and money than the new immigrants. Primarily composed of Protestants, this wave of immigrants generally settled in rural areas. The settling of rural America was common during the 1800s as the country did not shift to urban areas until the latter part of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries. For example, in 1880, only twenty percent of the American population lived in cities, and only a handful of cities boasted a population over 100,000.

Immigration in Early 20th Century America /Emigrants coming from a barge transporting them to Ellis Island, Study SmarterFig. 2 - Emigrants Coming from a barge transporting them to Ellis Island, the building in the background is a hospital (1902). Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

New Immigrants

At the turn of the twentieth century, nearly 14 percent of America's population had not been born in the country. This new wave of immigrants largely came from eastern and southern Europe and consisted of people from Italy, Russia, the Balkans, and Poland. Young males dominated the new wave of immigrants, unlike the old immigrants, who mainly came with families. Most of these immigrants did not intend to stay long in America, only planning to earn enough money to send home to their families. With English not being the new immigrants' native tongue, Americans were not as welcoming as they had been to earlier immigrants.

Did you know?

Many "new" immigrants wanted to work and earn enough money to send home to their families and eventually return home. The immigrants who pursued this were nicknamed "Birds of Passage."

Date:
Number of Immigrants in America:
1880's
5.2 million
1900-1915
15 million

American Immigration Policies in the 20th Century

In the first decade of the twentieth century, America saw an influx of immigrants numbering in the millions. It is estimated that over fifteen million immigrants arrived on America's shores between 1900 and 1915. In previous decades immigration to America had been steady, but the country had never seen such numbers in such a short period. Immigrants who arrived in prior decades came from primarily English-speaking countries and thus were more welcome than those arriving after 1900.

Immigration in Early 20th Century America /"The Only One Barred Out" 1882, Study SmarterFig. 3 - "The Only One Barred Out" Political Cartoon 1882 Source: Wikimedia Commons

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

A precursor to twentieth-century policies, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 became America's first restriction on immigration, slowing Chinese immigration. The act passed by Congress in 1882 declared a decade-long ban on Chinese workers arriving in the US. The act also implemented new restrictions on Chinese already in America. Set to expire in 1892, Congress renewed the act for another ten years. This exclusion act would be followed by other actions restricting immigration from other countries in the following decades.

Immigration Act of 1917 (Asiatic Barred Zone Act)

Expanding upon barring Asian immigrants, Congress barred immigrants from "any country not owned by the United States adjacent to the continent of Asia."1 To further target immigrants, English literacy tests and an eight-dollar tax per person were administered upon arrival. Congress's goal was to curtail immigrants coming from Mexico, Asia, and the Mediterranean and keep destitute immigrants from becoming a burden. The bill remained active for almost thirty-five years and only ended with the Naturalization Act of 1952.

Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and Immigration Act of 1924

Immigration in Early 20th Century America /Political Cartoon Depicting the Emergency Quota Act, Study SmarterFig. 4 - Political Cartoon Depicting the Emergency Quota Act Source: Wikimedia Commons

Following the Immigration Act of 1917, Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act in its' first attempt to place a specific quota on immigrants entering the country. Due to the increasing immigrant numbers, Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act to restrict how many immigrants could arrive. In 1924 Congress followed up with the Immigration Act of 1924, which directly expressed deep racism towards immigrants of Eastern and Western descent. The bill had overwhelming support and passed quickly with a vote of 323 to 71. The bill's provisions limited the number of immigrants admitted to the U.S. based on the 1890 census and nationality. Only two percent taken from each nationality would be allowed into the country. Against the wishes of Japanese diplomats, the bill also targeted Japanese immigrants by banning them altogether (the ban was finally lifted in 1952).

Did you know?

Immigrants arrived through different ports in the United States. Europeans arrived in New York City (Ellis Island), and Asians arrived on the West Coast (Angel Island).

Irish Immigration in the 20th Century

Immigration in Early 20th Century America / "The Usual Irish way of doing things" / StudySmarterFig. 5 - Anti-Irish political cartoon "The Usual Irish way of doing things." 1871 by Thomas Nast. Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Irish immigrants began seeking opportunities in America as early as 1845 due to the potato famine that wiped out their staple crops. Fighting off poverty, disease, and death, Irish immigrants flocked to America in search of a better life. The Irish, previously farmers, tended to stay in cities when they arrived in America. Many men and women began as unskilled laborers with low wages but gained more opportunities as time passed. For example, the infamous Tammany Hall, though largely corrupt, gave Irish immigrants shelter, support, employment, and membership in the group. The support offered to Irish immigrants eventually led them to political power in the U.S. Though some Irish immigrants rose through levels of economic opportunity, they also faced deep discrimination.

Tammany Hall: leading committee of the Democratic Party in NYC known for exercising control through charity and patronage methods.

Did you know?

Almost 4.5 million Irish settled in America between 1820 and 1930!

Latin American Immigration in the 20th Century

Immigrants from Latin America grew slowly in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The Gold Rush of 1848 brought immigrants to America even though the number was small. The start of the twentieth century brought drastic changes to America. With the growth of the railroads and agriculture, the western economy expanded. The Mexican Revolution [1910-1917] helped push Mexican immigrants to America with the "1930 census counting almost 1.6 million people of Mexican heritage."2 As the US moved into the Caribbean region, immigrants from both Puerto Rico and Cuba, increased. However, the Great Depression quickly halted many immigrants from Latin America as opportunities became scarce.

Did you know?

A political party in the 1850s that was anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic was called the Know-Nothings, which attempted to halt immigration to America!

Immigration in the 20th Century Causes

Twentieth-century immigrants did not differ much from their predecessors in their reasons for arriving in America. Though no single factor explains mass immigration, many influencing factors remained the same: economic prosperity, religious freedom, and overall better living conditions called to many. Industrialization in agriculture and primarily manufacturing meant that America was flush with jobs.

Immigration in Early 20th Century America /Italian family  at Ellis Island 1905, Study SmarterFig. 6 - Italian immigrants arriving at Ellis Island 1905 Source: Wikimedia Commons

Economic Prosperity

Various reasons forced people from their homes and to the shores of America. However, most immigrants arrived in America to seek better economic opportunities. For example, in the 1870s, difficult economic times forced European immigrants to come to America to seek jobs. Immigrants took whatever jobs were available, and business owners often took advantage of immigrant workers. Men were paid less than "American" workers, and immigrant women even less than their male counterparts. In the quote below, the author, Nancy Foner, compares the struggles of past immigrants to those of present times. Though decades separate them, the immigrants of the early twentieth-century share similar struggles to today's immigrants.

As before, immigrants tend to flock to fields where coethnics have established a solid foothold. Lacking information about the broader labor market and dependent on the support of their own kind, new arrivals typically learn about and get help finding jobs through personal networks in the immigrant community."

–Nancy Foner, Immigration Past and Present, Daedalus, Vol. 142, No. 3 pp.16-25

Ethnic Neighborhoods

As immigrants arrived on America's shores, they began to create ethnic neighborhoods to preserve their cultural and ethnic identities. They wanted a place to call their while still speaking their language and practicing their own culture. Two of the most well-known ethnic neighborhoods were China Town in San Francisco and Little Italy in New York City.

Chinatown:

Chinatown started in San Francisco in the 1840s after the Opium Wars in China forced many Chinese from their homes. The rumors of California's gold rush brought many to California's shores in search of opportunities. Due to anti-Chinese sentiment, many Chinese came together to create their neighborhood. Chinatown offered social and political support to the Chinese, who often came up against discrimination.

Three Major Reasons for Immigrants Coming to America:
Economic Opportunities
Most immigrants came to seek work that offered more money than in their home countries.
Religious Freedom
Some immigrant groups sought religious freedom in America. The largest religious group was Catholics, but others included Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Protestants, and Muslims.
Better Living Conditions
Immigrants often left crowded, dirty, and slum-like urban conditions to seek a better way of living.

Immigration in the 20th Century Effects

Immigration in Early 20th Century America /Two officials from the NYC tenement housing department investigating a basement living area, Study SmarterFig. 7 - Two officials of the New York City Tenement House Department inspected a cluttered basement living area in 1900. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Rapid Increase in Population/Urbanization

America's cities were unprepared for the massive influx of immigrants arriving on her shores. Many immigrants settled in urban areas because they arrived at major city ports. For example, many immigrants came through the port of Ellis Island in New York, where most settled. Since most of America was an agrarian society before the 20th century, cities did not have the infrastructure or systems to accommodate many people. Many immigrants were forced to live in deplorable conditions with multiple people or families. Tenement-style living was prevalent and often did not have heating, cooling, or plumbing available.

Tenement: a room or set of rooms forming a separate living space within a home or apartment.

Immigration in Early 20th Century America /Portrait of Italian Woman 1906, Study SmarterFig. 8 - Portrait of Italian Woman 1906 Source: Wikimedia Commons

Cultural Change

Immigrants brought with them their own rich and beautiful cultures to America. While Americans did not often welcome new languages, styles of clothing, and religions, immigrants began creating communities and boroughs that welcomed their own. Places like Little Italy in New York and Chinatown in San Francisco welcomed Italians and Chinese and helped new immigrants find places to live and work.

Isolationist and Nativist Viewpoints

The influx of immigrants into the U.S. at the start of the 20th century brought diverse languages, customs, and religious practices. The rapid cultural change triggered isolationism and nativism in many Americans. Some began holding white Americans as "older immigrants" in higher regard than new immigrants. As revolutions and assassinations occurred in other countries, Nativists spread fear of the immigrant "threat" in America. For example, in 1917, in Russia, the Bolshevik Revolution helped trigger the impending sense that immigrants would spread Communism. Isolationism also plagued America through this period as America tended to avoid world interests or problems. For example, the U.S. refused to join the League of Nations after World War I.

Isolationism: A political policy of remaining separate from the interests or affairs of other countries or groups.

Nativism: An attitude/approach to shielding native-born people against immigrants.

Immigration in early 20th century America - Key takeaways

  • Old immigrants originated from Germany and England and came with more skills and money, while New Immigrants came from Eastern and Southern Europe and were young males focused on making enough money to send back to their families
  • American Immigration policies 20th Century
    • Immigration Act of 1917 (Asiatic Barred Zone Act): Congress barred immigrants from any country not owned by the U.S. or adjacent to the continent of Asia
    • Emergency Quota Act 1917: placed a quota on how many immigrants could arrive
    • Immigration Act of 1924: Limited number of immigrants based on 1890 census and nationality
  • Three significant causes of immigration
    • economic prosperity/opportunities
    • religious freedom
    • better living conditions
  • Effects of Immigration
    • the rapid increase in population/urbanization
    • cultural change
    • isolationist/nativist viewpoints

References

  1. "Immigration Act of 1917 Bans Asians, Other Non-White people from entering the US."
  2. James Gregory, "Latinx Great Migrations-History and Geography."

Frequently Asked Questions about Immigration in the 20th century

Immigrants came to America in the 20th century for three primary reasons: 1) economic opportunities, 2) Religious Freedom, and 3) Better Living Conditions.

Most immigrants came from eastern and southern Europe from countries such as Italy, Russia, the Balkans, and Poland. 

The effects of immigration in the 20th century were: 1) Rapid increase in population/urbanization, 2) Cultural Change, and 3) Isolationist and Nativist viewpoints. 

Immigration led some Americans to take a nativist or isolationist viewpoint. Nativism promoted the belief that Americans from older immigrant families were better than new immigrants. 

Final Immigration in the 20th century Quiz

Question

After what war did Chinese immigration increase in America? 

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Answer

Civil War 

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Question

List the two factors that led to the drastic rise in Chinese Immigration? 

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Answer

1. Expansive economic and Industrial Growth 

2. Increased need for cheap labor

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Question

What led to the creation of Chinatown in San Francisco? 

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Answer

California's high tax known as the Foreign Miners License Tax ($20/month)

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Question

The Chinese made up what percentage of the labor force working on the railroad? 

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Answer

90%

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Question

What major Anti-Chinese legislation was passed in order to ban Chinese Immigration? 

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Answer

The Chinese Exclusion Act 

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Question

When was the Chinese Exclusion Act finally repealed? 

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Answer

1952

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Question

What amendment was clearly violated in the Chinese Exclusion Act? 

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Answer

14th

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Question

The Supreme Court ordered what California city to allow Chinese children into public schools? 

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Answer

San Francisco

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Question

What influenced America's repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act? 

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Answer

Foreign Relations with China 

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Question

Which two critical industries supported the Chinese population? 

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Answer

Mining & Railroads 

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Question

What was the Gentleman's Agreement?

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Answer

An agreement to limit Japanese immigration to the United States in exchange for better treatment of Japanese in the US 

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Question

What was the Meiji restoration?

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Answer

A period of rapid modernization in Japan 

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Question

What form of government did Japan have when Commodore Perry arrived?


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Answer

Shogunate

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Question

How did Nakahama Manjiro become the first Japanese immigrant to the United States?

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Answer

He was rescued after a shipwreck 

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How were Japanese immigrant treated in the United States?


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Answer

They were discriminated against 

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What was most Japanese plan in coming to America?

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Answer

To learn skills and return to Japan 

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Where did most Japanese immigrants land in the US?


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Answer

California and Hawaii 

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Question

What are Issei?

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Answer

First generation Japanese immigrants 

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What did Commodore Mathew Perry do for American and Japanese relations?

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Answer

He forced Japan to open up to outsiders 

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What increased demand for Japanese labor in the US?


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Answer

Chinese Exclusion Act 

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Which Europeans were not considered new immigrants?

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Answer

Germans

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What were two main reasons for European immigration?

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Answer

the promise of economic opportunity

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Why did Americans prefer old immigrants from Northern and Western Europe.

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Answer

They spoke English.

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Question

What was the name of the immigrant processing center in New York?

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Answer

Ellis Island

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Where did most European immigrants settle?

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Answer

large cities

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Question

Which year saw the peak of immigration?

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Answer

1907

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Question

How did the Immigration Act of 1924 discriminate against new immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe?

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Answer

They used the census from 1980, rather than 1910 to set the quota.

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Question

European immigration decreased naturally during:

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Answer

The Progressive Era

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When did European immigration to America first begin?

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Answer

the 16th century

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Those seeking religious freedom generally came from:

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Answer

Eastern Europe

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When did the United States start restricting immigration?

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Answer

the late 19th century

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Which group was not part of the "old immigrants"?

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Answer

Italians

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Which Immigration Act instituted the literacy test?

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Answer

The Immigration Act of 1917

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Question

Which Immigration Act instituted the national quota system?

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Answer

The Immigration Act of 1921

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Question

When did the Congress enact the Chinese Exclusion Act?

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Answer

1882

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Early 20th century immigration policies favored:

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Answer

Northern and Western Europeans

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Question

In the early 20th century, there was no restriction on immigration from Latin America and Canada.

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Answer

True

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When did the national origins quota system end?

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Answer

1965

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Question

What was the name of the congressional commission that investigated the impact of immigration in 1911?

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Answer

The Dillingham Commission

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Question

Which census did the Immigration Act of 1924 use?

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Answer

the 1880 census 

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Question

What is sharecropping?

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Answer

an economic practice in the South in which a plantation owner rented out farmland to a tenant farmer in exchange for a portion of their crops

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What event led to the first wave of the Great Migration?

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Answer

World War I

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How did Southern authorities prevent black laborers from leaving at train stations?

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Answer

arresting them for vagrancy

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During the first wave of the Great Migration, which was not a popular form of transportation?

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Answer

train 

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What is the term for the period of race riots that took place after World War I?

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Answer

The Red Summer of 1919

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What were two positive effects of the Great Migration?

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Answer

the creation of black cultural centers in urban neighborhoods

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How did the main destination of black citizens change from the first wave to second wave of the Great Migration?

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Answer

They went North and West. 

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Question

What were restrictive housing covenants?

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Answer

contracts signed by new homeowners that ensured they would only sell their house to white families

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Question

When did the Great Migration come to an end?

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Answer

the 1970s

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Question

What event caused a lull between the first and second wave of the Great Migration?

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Answer

the Great Depression

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