Published Date

January 1, 2000

Resource Type

For Departments, For the Classroom, Program of Study

This resource was developed as part of the Migration and the American South project.

This Web project explores migration out of and into a three-county area in the piedmont of North Carolina during the period from 1940-1999. These counties–Granville, Vance, and Warren–are located on the Virginia border north of Raleigh, North Carolina. Traditionally, the local economies of these counties were dominated by agriculture and, in the case of Vance County, textile manufacture. Traditionally they were counties characterized by low average wages and incomes and higher than average unemployment and poverty–particularly in Vance and Warren. Over the last twenty years, new industries have located in Vance and Granville counties, and the service sector has expanded in such areas as health care, education, and government. However, the booming economy that has transformed so much of the South is still a faint echo in much of this region. This is an area that was a net exporter of people for much of the period that is studied. Substantial numbers of African American citizens left the area during the period 1940-1970 and settled in cities and towns in the northeast. This exodus was part of the “Great Migration” that swept the entire South. A significant internal migration was also taking place with rural people–whites and blacks–moving to the more urbanized areas of the counties.

Over the last decade or so, the out-migration has slowed substantially, and a small number of people are moving into the area despite its relatively anemic economy. These new migrants are a varied lot but two groups stand out: African Americans “returning” to the South from northern cities and people originally from Mexico who work as laborers on the local farms and as workers in the local factories. There is also a steady trickle of northern retirees migrating to the area and professional people who are drawn to the area by the rural and small town lifestyle and the availability of waterfront homesites (there’s a large man-made lake on the Virginia border). Some of these professional people are employed in the Research Triangle or in Raleigh or Durham and commute to work.

Migration and the American South is intended to serve as a Web assignment or group exercise in a college American history class. It features a number of primary sources and secondary sources that students can explore to help them better understand the “push and pull” causes of migration and how migration affects the people who migrate and the people who don’t. I also hope the website will help students develop a better understanding of the vital roles economic change and migration play in shaping our history and the issues and obsessions that drive our politics. By focusing on this small area along the Virginia and North Carolina border, I hope the “grand” issues of migration will be personalized for students.