“Shortage of labor in Northern industries was the direct cause of the increased Negro migration during the war period. This direct cause was, of course augmented by other causes, among which were the increased dissatisfaction with conditions in the South – the ravages of the boll weevil, floods, change of crop system, low wages and poor houses and schools.” (Division of Negro Economics, 1921, p. 10) “The entrance of negroes into industries, particularly in the North during the great war led to many questions…In what kinds of occupations were they most generally employed…How did they compare with white workmen in the same establishments, and on the same jobs as to absenteeism, turn-over, quality of work produced, and speed in turning out quantity?” In multiple state by state reports created by the US Department of Labor it was found that negro workers, when provided with equal standards and treatment regarding housing conditions, working conditions and temperament of employers, were on average and by all measures equal in their outputs and attitudes to white laborers. (Division of Negro Economics, 1921, p. 7)

In the early part of the 20th century Syracuse New York was a factory town. African Americans came to Syracuse hoping to find work with employers who were willing to hire them. Some of the largest employers of African Americans in the Syracuse area in the first half of the 20th century were: Crouse-Hinds, The Easy Washing-Washing Machine Company, General Electric, General Motors, Chrysler, The L.C. Smith Typewriter Company, Niagara Mohawk and Syracuse University. In addition, the Dunbar center on the City’s South Side served as an employment agency for African American women who took “Day-Work”, doing cooking, cleaning and laundry for affluent families in the City’s wealthier neighborhoods. In the 15th Ward section of Syracuse many African Americans owned small businesses: they were the butchers, grocers, appliance repairmen, haberdashers, barbers, etc. In the 50s and 60s, when the 15th Ward was demolished to make way for University Hospital and the 81 overpass, many moved their businesses into the Armory Square area or out to the near side of Erie Boulevard East. Now, a significant number of black owned businesses in are concentrated along South Salina Street. (Nelson & King, 2011)

The stories included in this website were provided by Black History Preservation Project volunteers who were willing to share their family histories, to help provide a snap-shot of how African Americans settled in Syracuse in the first half of the 20th century.


Division of Negro Economics: US Dept. of Labor. (1921). The negro at work during the World War and during Reconstruction: Statistics, problems and policies relating to the greater inclusion of negro wage earners in American industry and agriculture. downloaded April 11th, 2011 from: http://ia600104.us.archive.org/6/items/negroatworkdurin00unit/

Henderson, D.H. (October, 1921) The negro migration of 1916-1918. in The Journal of Negro History. (7). 4. p. 383-393. downloaded April 11th, 2011 from: http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs /2/2/1/4/22149/ 22149-h/22149-h.htm#No4_a1

Nelson, M. & King, V. (2011) Personal interview with Marshall Nelson & Vernita King at the Beauchamp Branch Library. April 7th, 2011. Syracuse, NY.

Schomburg Center (3/21/2011). Leaving the South. From: In motion: The African American migration experience. Downloaded 3/21/2011 from: http://www.inmotionaame.org/migrations/ topic.cfm?migration=8&topic=2&tab=image