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introduction
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“I WILL THANK YOU ALL WITH ALL MY HEART”
Black Girls and the Great Migration
Four days after the Chicago Defender declared May 15, 1917, the Great
Northern Migration Day, a teenage girl in Selma, Alabama, asked its
founder and editor, Robert Abbott, for help. The girl’s letter to the nation’s
most influential black newspaper of the time captured the desperate con-
ditions of life in the South and expressed her hopes to escape to Abbott’s
beloved Chicago. In the pages of the newspaper, Abbott promised that
African Americans could secure well- paying jobs, send their children to
modern schools, and revel in social freedoms unknown to most Southern
girls. She wrote:
Sirs I am writeing to see if You all will please get me a job. And Sir I can
wash dishes, wash, iron, nursing, work in groceries and dry good stores.
Just any of these I can do. Sir, who so ever you get the job from, please
tell them to send me a ticket and I will pay them When I get their, as
I have not got enough money to pay my way. I am a girl of 17 years old
and in the 8 grade at Knox Academy School, But on account of not
having money enough I had to stop school. Sir I will thank you all with
all my heart. May God Bless you all.1
Later that summer, another seventeen- year- old girl asked Abbott and
the Defender staff to assist her exodus from Alexandria, Louisiana, and
she exposed the family tensions sparked by her desire to migrate. “There
isnt a thing for me to do, the wages here is from a dollar and a half a week.
What could I earn Nothing. . . . I am tired of down hear in this, I am afraid
to say. Father seem to care,” she observed, “and then again don’t seem to
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