Date of Award

Summer 2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

School

Humanities

Committee Chair

Dr. Chester "Bo" Morgan

Committee Chair School

Humanities

Committee Member 2

Dr. Rebecca Tuuri

Committee Member 2 School

Humanities

Committee Member 3

Dr. Kevin Greene

Committee Member 3 School

Humanities

Committee Member 4

Dr. Douglas Bristol

Committee Member 4 School

Humanities

Committee Member 5

Dr. Bernadette Pruitt

Committee Member 5 School

Humanities

Abstract

In the fifty years before the Great Migration thousands of African Americans moved from the southern countryside to nearby cities and towns. In in an event historian Bernadette Pruitt calls the Other Great Migration, rapidly increasing black populations struggled to claim space in New South cities built by industry and governed by segregation. While this process occurred across the urban South, the logical destination for people living in southeast Mississippi was a small but growing town called Hattiesburg. As sharecroppers from the countryside turned their backs on farm labor, they embarked upon a four-step process to a better life.

Through migration, employment, enterprise, and agency, black migrants resisted the effects of white dominance in urban areas and established a self-contained African American community in the booming sawmill town. Called Mobile Street, Hattiesburg’s black community allowed its residents to experience safety in numbers, improved wages from employment in the railroad and lumber industries, and black schools with a nine-month calendar. Eventually, bustling business and entertainment districts facilitated by black entrepreneurs joined the residential district to produce a southern Black Metropolis.

Although the current historical narrative places the beginning of sprawling, self-contained, African American communities in northern cities after the famed Great Migration, this study argues that the Black Metropolis originated in the South. By 1900, the Mobile Street community hosted a black-owned bank, insurance company, movie theatre, and hotel as well as several benevolence organizations, grocery stores, restaurants, and barber shops. This distinct community permeated every aspect of southern black life until increased violence and the draw of wartime employment enticed residents to relocate to northern cities. This dissertation further asserts that as residents of the southern Black Metropolis moved north during the Great Migration, they carried not only their belongings, but also their community structure. Once settled, southern migrants recreated their communities in northern cities, such as Chicago, and the Black Metropolis the historiography embraces came to fruition.

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