Modern US History

All the modern US history fit to print

Category: Guy Milling


European migration and African American migration are both parts of New York City’s history. Throughout U.S. history, people who migrated to this country are in search of the American dream. The American dream meant something social groups within the US. New York offers a chance to analyze and understand the dream from the perspective of European migrants as well as African American refugees. For the African Americans that left the segregated Jim Crow South, the dream for them on a basic level was their recognition as a person in this country rather than three-fifths of a person. On the other hand, Europeans immigrants in the US were seeking greater economic opportunities as well as religious freedom. African Americans were also seeking greater economic opportunity due to the US’ systemic failures that never laid down a foundation for black people to strive economically.

In the 19th century, the United States was expanding rapidly to the west. Beginning in 1870 until 1920, twenty-five million Southern European immigrants moved to the US. Between 1910 and 1918, half a million African Americans moved from Jim Crow South to northern cities. These immigrants were in search of greater socioeconomic opportunities.  These immigrants came to discover one of the biggest lies in American history, the American Dream. The idea of a land with opportunities for each according to a person abilities or achievements have not been shown throughout American history. Once in the promised land, the US had systems created and established to undermine a person’s humanity. Anglo-Saxons had always been the top social class in the US and they viewed the new immigrants as a completely different entity. Whether it’s through predetermined social constructs, political systems or even through the standard of living, this promising dream will not become a reality for most who seek it. In the midst of American oppression, the dream for refugees or immigrants was in full control of the government. In the twentieth century, through peaceful or non-peaceful protest, minorities worked together to call for equality and social reforms.

This project will try to show the lives that the American dream offered immigrants after their initial move as well as the lives people created despite the different hardships they faced. Jacob August Riis, an immigrant photographer, published a book depicting how immigrants were surviving in New York City. He migrated from Denmark in 1870 as a 21-year-old, looking and hoping for a better life. With the help of flash photography, he was able to accurately depict the dangerous living conditions of immigrants living in theses overcrowded slums due to housing discrimination. He wanted to shed light on the many difficulties that “new immigrants” faced when coming to the US. In some way, Riis is the embodiment of the American dream. Immigrant children were also greatly affected by their parents’ socioeconomic status. This project will try to show the creative, yet dangerous measures children were taking to have fun.

The great economic gap between the upper and lower class and outright discrimination resulted in Americans living in extremely poor conditions. African Americans, who have been second-class citizens since the beginning of time in American history, started recreating their image in the 19th century. The Harlem Renaissance was a movement set forth by the need of African Americans to create a new image of themselves. They were shifting from the slave world into the New Negro. African Americans Migrated from the segregated South in need of refuge from percussion. The Southerners did not want them in their states as they created systems and laws meant to keep African Americans as second-class citizens forever. However, African Americans through the Harlem Renaissance were able to create art, music, a shift in culture as a well as a variety of scholarly work along most of the educational disciplines.

Ellis Island

European migration was a prominent part of the eighteenth and nineteenth century in the United States. European settlers migrated to the US for greater economic opportunities. The great hall of Ellis Island is a very recognizable hall due to the number of immigrants that went through it. Most of our ancestor went through that hall and the image depicts the condition that these people were in when coming through Ellis Island. Between 1901 and 1914, thirteen million European immigrants came to the US. Cities such as New York and Detroit, where fifty percent of their residents were immigrants, had to establish Americanization programs as well as forcing people of the same ethnicity into the same neighborhoods. African Americans who migrated to New York went through a cultural uproar by creating art, music, and dance. This image shows the conditions and the hardships that immigrants had to endure once arrive in Ellis Island. Families are cramped into very little quarters and they are numbered like livestock. Life didn’t automatically become easier once an immigrant set foot on US soil. Some worked hard and eventually succeeded but most of the immigrants still could not get their family out of poverty generations after they’ve migrated to the US.

The Great Black Migration

African Americans migrated from the southern states to northern and western states in large numbers between 1910 and 1918. They were escaping social, economic and political systems in the southern states that enforced the enforced the separation of the races. African American hardships did not end with emancipation proclamation. Soon after slavery was abolished, the sharecropping system was established in order to keep African Americans from progressing economically. African Americans grew tired of not making social nor economic strides in the early 19th century which pushed one and half million African Americans to move out of their homes in southern states. A newspaper article from the New York Times tried to make a comparison between the lives of a Southern versus a Northern African Americans. Northern African Americans had to navigate systematic racism through deriving from housing, schools, and the welfare system. The article talks about the overwhelming amount of black people migrating North and these cities did not have the resources to properly accommodate the migrants into their city’s lives. By the 1920s however, New York’s Harlem had become an intimate part of New York City and a hub for black art and black identity (Jeffrey B. Ferguson, 2007, 46-55).

How The Other Half Lives

Child’s Play

Labor was heavily exploited in the early twentieth century. Women were slowly getting introduced to the workforce with roughly twenty thousand women in 1910. They were paid three to four dollars per hour and working sixty-five hours a week. Integrating immigrants with American society was done through Americanization programs. Three-fourths of the Ford Motor Company workers in 1914 were immigrants.  As a result, Ford opened the Ford English School in order to teach its workers English as well as American culture, virtues, and mannerism. Low paying factory jobs was the best economic opportunity that immigrants had once migrated into the US. Jacob Riis’ collection, How the other Half Lives, contains a picture of a boy in a glass factory. The youthfulness of the boy makes it imaginable to comprehend the hardships that immigrants were exposed to. The boy’s face is very dirty, and his clothes are falling apart with a very somber look on his face. He is surrounded by other workers much older than him. The boy is about eight or nine, which means that every member of that boy’s family is working in order to survive. The family’s earning must not have been sufficient to the point where they would expose that young boy to the harsh working conditions in that factory.

Children were greatly impacted by the living conditions of immigrants in New York. Families w had no option but to live together in these unhygienic slums and tenements. One out five children born in these slums died. This high death rate shows that the government at the time did not care to ameliorate people’s lives.  The New Deal set forth by President Roosevelt for the recovery of the United States following the great depression.  When President Roosevelt took office in 1933, the country was suffering from a twenty-five percent unemployment rate. The new deal focused heavily on economic reforms rather than social reforms. Labor was being exploited in the factories and the new deal was able to establish the standard minimum wage. While parents were working traitorous hours in factories, their children had to rely on their imagination for enjoyment. An image by Lewis Hine depicted the creative ways that children in tenements found to enjoy themselves. Children of all ages standing on two big wheel barrels watching their companions play makeshift baseball. The economic recession of the twentieth century had affected all aspect of the lives of immigrants, event their children’s enjoyment.

In Harlem Manhattan, black children were set up for failure. Harlem had minimal infrastructures for children to be children. They were exposed to the realities of life at a very early age. They had to rely on the streets to enjoy themselves. This image shows two young kids in Harlem circling around a lamppost for enjoyment. They are out on the streets at all hours of the day and night, but through their innocence, children will luckily find was to escape the real world and the problems that come with it. These children were navigating the dangerous streets of Harlem where crimes were a relevant part of day to day life in Harlem by themselves. African Americans improved Harlem through the HarlRenaissancence. At the time, African Americans called it the New Negro Movement. A rise in black nationalist, a reinventing of black identity as well as an artistic revolution all made it the Harlem renaissance. The New Negro’s main focus was “absolute and unequivocal social equality”.  The author of Harlem Renaissance, Nathan Irving affirmed that the new negro was set out to reject second-class citizenship and would educate himself and others in order to facilitate just race relations (Irving 2007, 53-54).


The overcrowded northern and western cities were ill prepared for the surplus of immigrants they received throughout the twentieth century. The popular low paying jobs kept most of the adults working throughout the day while their children were at home or working beside them. Children were able to help their families economically by getting a factory job. Children Sleeping on Mulberry Street is perhaps the saddest picture out of the Jacob Riis, How the other half lives collection. It shows three very young children sleeping in the street with no parent in sight. Whether or not these children are homeless is unknown, but Riis’s image tried to show that life was hard enough for immigrants that three young children, not much older than seven, end up sleeping on the street without their parents. The children’s clothes are very dirty, and they don’t have any footwear. These children look like they haven’t been bathed in a while. Besides health hazards, crime was a really relevant factor. With the available jobs paying very little, people had to find other means to make a living which put the kids’ lives in danger. New York City and other immigrant dominated cities had minimal infrastructure put in place to develop and ameliorate children’s lives. Children were losing time to develop physically and mentally by working in these traitorous factories.


Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance jumpstarted a cultural and social revolution in New York City. The Harlem Renaissance is a result of the great migration of African Americans from southern states in the early twentieth century. The African Americans who left Jim Crow South moved north only to submerge themselves in the white mental blocks that prevented them from seeing black people in moral terms. Author Cordy Vivian emphasized in his book, Black Power and the American Myth, the pressing need for black people to recreate their image as most “blacks saw themselves largely through the crippled eyes of whites”. Black people desperately needed to accept themselves as men and women before they could change the minds and hearts of their white counterparts, hence the creation of the New Negro. Harlem in the early nineteen hundred was home for the New Negro. This map shows the different attractions of Harlem as they were famous for their jazz music and dance with racially integrated clubs. Theaters and nightclubs in every street corner, Harlem became a sanctuary for the hardworking African American as they could escape the nuisances of immigrant life by dancing and singing every night on these Harlem blocks (Cordy Vivian, 7-15).

The Harlem Renaissance was a big leap forward for African Americans in American society. The movement allowed them to express their frustration with America through art, music, and dance. W.E.B Du Bois, an African American sociologist believed that equality could be achieved through the arts. Du Bois urged African Americans to get educated as he believed that only through education could the negro become socially and politically active. Racial discrimination in the twentieth prohibited the negro from economic advancements. African American jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong through their sophisticated style and their advancements in the music industry helped change the expectations for the entire race. These musicians help defined the New Negro who was set out to reject second-class citizenship and would educate himself and others in order to facilitate just race relations

Adult Hardships

As part of the new deal, President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration sponsored and helped to establish the Home Owners Loan Corporation.  HOLC was created to protect white homeowners and push back on the defacement of white neighborhoods from ethnic settlers. The home Owners loan corporation still has a long living legacy on the housing market in New York City. HOLC assigned a distinct set of four colors in the cities in which they operate. A neighborhood that was assigned the color green meant that the federal government could back the mortgages. Being assigned a red color or “redlining” meant that there was a concentration of a less desirable ethnic or religious groups. Redlining made it difficult for African Americans in New York to get housing. Harlem was assigned the red color and marked as a high-risk neighborhood due to the high concentration of African Americans living there. Black people were viewed as a contagion and lowered the value of the housing market wherever they ended up. Even one African American family could give the whole neighborhood a red rating. Neighborhoods with Jewish and Italian families were also at risk of that rating. HOLC’s rating made it difficult for minorities and poor immigrants to take out loans to buy homes.

Immigrants found it difficult to find housing in these overcrowded cities. The US already had systematic racisms engraved in the housing system. Restrictive covenants were one of the many ways the US was undermining people’s humanity in the twentieth century. Landowners and homeowners could impose restrictions to prohibit people from specific ethnic or religious groups from purchasing or renting their homes.  Immigrants were left to live in these overcrowded slums and tenements. These building could hold one or more migrant families. These buildings had no plumbing or heating which made the living condition in these tenements extremely dangerous. Lodgers in a crowed Bayar Street tenement by Jacob Riis, depicts nightlife in the slums. There are six people living in a space as big as a one-person bathroom. The filth that these people are living makes it very easy for diseases to spread throughout an immigrant community. Everyone in the room is getting ready for bed, but they are very dirty. They clearly have not gotten a chance to take a shower in a long time as they are wearing their dirty work clothes to bed. The room does not seem to have any source of plumbing nor electricity. What is more captivating about the image, is the fact that there is a child amongst them. None of the older men are being examples for that boy due to their own hardships as the kid’s provider.

The Tenement House Committee, founded in1898, was established to advocate to the Government on behalf of the poor citizens living in New York. The THC would eventually lead to the creation of the New York State Commission that oversaw the passage of the New York Tenement House Act of 1901. This act was one of the firsts to ban the construction of dark, poorly ventilated tenements. Although these housing complexes were not exceeding the standard of living, however, these tenements were economically logical for low-income immigrant families living in New York. The Tenement House Committee created a map in 1895 depicting the race ghettos throughout. The map displays the geographical concentration of various ethnic groups throughout Manhattan.  During the 1890s, Europeans immigrants dominated New York City. The lower East side of New York City had numerous numbers of tenements. The lower east side part of Manhattan showed the greatest density of people per acre, about 900 to 1000 living on one acre of land.  


Tuberculosis was one of the wide-spreading diseases in New York City in the early nineteen hundreds. The Charity Organization Society, founded in 1882, was working to secure more favorable living conditions as well as raising the general standard of living. The organization made clear that the cause of the rapid spread of the disease was due to the tenements’ lack of light, poor plumbing and the minimal spaces that families were living in. Tuberculosis raged on in low income and poor neighborhoods because of their poor living conditions as well as lack of sanitary infrastructure. In 1910, the Charity Organization Society created a map depicting the spread of tuberculosis in New York City’s lower east side. Almost every building had one or multiple cases of tuberculosis represented by a pin on the map. The close proximity that the immigrants were living in made it possible for the disease to be that widespread.

Americanization programs were created for new immigrants so they could get accommodated with American society and life. Immigrants of the same ethnic group relied on one another for support as they were forced to live in the same neighborhoods. The lower east side of Manhattan known for its Russian and Polish Jew immigrants was one of the biggest ethnic ghettos in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Factory jobs and open-air markets made up the immigrants’ source of income. Filmed in New York’s lower east side, this video shows a gathering of push-cart vendors so could sell their goods. The vendors did not have permits, so police officers could arrest them or simply ask them to leave. This video shows the economic disparity that immigrants were living in. While they took initiatives to elevate their economic status, the city was pushing back by crashing these open-air markets, harassing or arresting the street vendors.

The Home Owners Loan corporation branch of New York gave Harlem in the city a red ratting. By the mid-twentieth century, Harlem had become an African American ghetto. There many different ethnic ghettos situated in cities all over the country. The red rating of Harlem made it extremely difficult for low-income families to own homes as the government was not backing any mortgages. No money was being invested in the city to ameliorate people’s lives, so no playgrounds and public parks were being built. The city as playground is a collection depicting the enrichments systems children had when they wanted to escape discrimination or factory work. The collection shows a series of playgrounds or makeshift playgrounds that children had to play with. This image shows a bunch of African American children playing darts using a wooden fence as the board. Eight kids of a variety of ages all gathered around the “dartboard” to calculate their points. Children’s lives were beginning to be affected by the discriminatory system of redlining and children were pushing back with these makeshift playgrounds.


Primary Sources

  1. The Pens at Ellis Island. 1913. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs: Photography Collection, New York Public Library, New York. In New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 12, 2018.
  2. Special to The New York Times. “NEGROES COMING NORTH.” New York Times (1857- 1922), Nov 14, 1903, Accessed November 15, 2018.
  3. Riis, Jacob August. Boy in a Glass Factory. 1890. How the Other Half Lives, Museum of the  City of New York.
  4. Riis, Jacob August. Lodgers in a crowed Bayar Street tenement. 1890. How the Other Half  Lives, Museum of the City of New York.
  5. Corporation, Home Owners’. “Manhattan’s Original HOLC Map.” Map. Brick Underground.  1960-1970. Accessed November 11, 2018.
  6. Hine, Lewis. Tenement Playground, New York. 1937. Photographs concerning Labor, Housing and Social Conditions in the United States, New York Public Library, New York.

  7. Perry, Roy. Playing Improvised Dart Game on Wooden Street Fence. 1940. 19th Century, Child Saving Movement, Museum of the City of New York, Harlem, New York. In October 8, 2013. Accessed November 13, 2018.
  8. There Are Few Playgrounds in Harlem. Negro Children Must Play on the Streets. 1929.  Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, New York. In New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 2018.

  9. Riis, Jacob August. Children Sleeping on Mulberry Street. 1890. How the Other Half Lives,  Museum of the City of New York.

  10. Frederick, Pierce Erastus. “The Tenement House Committee Maps.” Map. In Harpers Weekly Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection. New York, NY: Tenement House Committee of 1894, 1895.

  11. Charity Organization Society. “What You Should Know About Tuberculosis.” Map. In Photographs from the Community Service Society Records, 1900-1920: Health and Hygiene: Tuberculosis. New York, NY: Columbia University, 1910. Accessed December 16, 2018.
  12. Alfred Camille Abadie, “Move on”, United States: Thomas A. Edison, Inc. 1903, 2:06, December 16, 2018.
  13. Simms, Campbell Elmer. “A Night-club Map of Harlem.” Cartoon. Library of Congress. 1932. Accessed December 16, 2018.,-0.029,1.649,0.734,0.
  14. The True Welcome. Produced by Ken Burns. Public Broadcasting Service. 1 hour 59 mins.Accessed December 16, 2018. .                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Secondary Sources
  15. Ferguson, Jeffrey B. The Harlem Renaissance, a Brief History with Documents, Pages 46-55.
  16. Stewart, Jeffrey C. 2018. January 12, 2018. Accessed November 12, 2018. 
  17. Michael, Siegel. The Great Migration, 1900-1929.2005. In Motion: the African-American  Migration Experience: Maps by Michael Siegel, Schomburg Center for Research in Black  Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, New York. In The  New York Public Library Digital Collections.
  18. Irving, Huggins Nathan. Harlem Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Accessed  November 16, 2018.



© 2019 Modern US History

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑