From Virginia to New York: A Black Family’s Migration

Clarence “Papa Jack” Jackson

My great grandfather, Clarence “Papa Jack” Jackson, left his birthplace of Basic City, Virginia, for New York state  in 1885. He was 20 years old. “Papa Jack” left behind his mother, Lucy Ann Jackson, and his father, Squire Jackson, both of whom would eventually relocate to New York at the insistence of my great grandfather and their other children, all of whom appear to have left Basic City for New York state in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

My great grandfather migrated from Virginia to New York State well before the “First Great Migration” of blacks from the rural South to the urban North, which is dated from roughly 1910 to 1930. Or the second “Great Migration,” which began around 1940. His sojourn was probably helped by the fact that, shortly after the Civil War, Basic City became the junction of two railroad lines–the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and the Shenandoah Valley Railroad (which would become the Norfolk and Western Railway), giving “Papa Jack” and his siblings easy access to a major system of transportation–and a convenient way to leave the South for a new and different life in the North.

While less than 20 percent of the nation’s black population lived in the north prior to 1910, a small–but not insignificant–wave of black migration from south to north took place between the end of the Civil War and 1900. Like the “great migrations” that would follow, this exodus was also apparently spurred, in large part, by economics.

“After its defeat in the Civil War, the South had reverted to dependence on cotton as its major economic resource. … As sharecroppers or tenant farmers, blacks often tended the same fields as they worked as slaves fifty years before. This dependence proved to be damaging when a series of floods and boll weevil infestations reduced crop yields to dangerously low levels. With fewer arable fields to harvest and increasing mechanization of field work, the South suddenly found it ‘had too many people and too few jobs’.” (Black Exodus­­­­–The Great Migration from the American South, Alferdteen Harrison)

In 1893, my great grandfather, now a resident of New York state, married Addie Wilkins,whose family had also migrated from Virginia. My next several posts will focus on “Papa Jack” and the family he and “Momma Addie” would  start in Tarrytown, N.Y., a village 20 miles north of New York City in the Hudson River Valley.

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