Was the African American Great Migration Delayed by Outlawing Emigrant Agents?
37 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2013
Date Written: July 20, 2013
The question of why more African Americans did not migrate earlier out of the stagnant and repressive South after emancipation remains open. Previous work has highlighted the role of demand and supply conditions. At the time, though, there was much concern about the role of emigrant agents who actively recruited African Americans to migrate away from their homes such that several states introduced emigrant agent laws to effectively drive them out of business. In this paper we provide the first estimates of the quantitative significance of these agents to African American migration. Specifically, we take advantage of a natural experiment provided by different outcomes in court cases in Georgia and Alabama, which resulted in Alabama being prevented from re-introducing these laws between 1882 and 1903 while Georgia’s laws remained. Analyzing gross migration out of the two states, we find that the emigrant agent laws had no direct effect on migration. Though there is some limited evidence that the sensitivity of migration flows to economic differences within the South was lower if an emigrant agent law was in place. This suggests that small changes to the emigrant agent laws are unlikely to have led to an earlier Great Migration. Interestingly we also find that the increase in migration began before 1920 which provides some support for the supply-based explanations.
Keywords: Great Migration, Emigrant Agents, Gravity Models, African Americans, Southern Labor Markets, Labor Market Regulation
JEL Classification: N31, N41, N91, K31, J61, R23
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation