Changing Times,
Changing People, 1890-1920:
Second Wave of Immigration

[immigration map] At the end of the nineteenth century began the second and principal wave of migration from the South. Hartford's white elite had slowly learned to accomodate the old Black families, but these newcomers were too numerous and too countrified to be so easily coopted. The map illustrates the patterns of migration to Connecticut from such southern states as Virginia, North Carolina and especially Georgia. Certain areas in Central and Southwest Georgia were particularly represented, and it is said, with obvious exaggeration, that nearly everyone in Hartford is therefore related.

Census Figures
Migration by train
Migration by train, car & bus
These census figures indicate that the rate of immigration almost tripled in the era of World War I, which marks the beginning of the second wave of immigration. Labor recruiters worked the South, offering free transportation and the promise of jobs, and this certainly contributed to the influx. However, it was a wave that crested in the 1960s, after which Hartford shrank, as it continues to do today. The pattern closely correlates with the City's economic growth, which in turn correlates with manufacturing. The loss the City's manufacturing base after the Second World War (due to the inept planning and myopia of the City's banking and insurance interests, it must be admitted) meant a loss in the quality and quantity of jobs in the City. Because of racism or an anti-urban bias, often much the same thing, more than three quarters of the jobs now go to overwhelmingly white suburban commuters.

Social Differentiation

Around the turn of the century, there begins to a social differentiation within the Black population that left the majority to continue in difficult circumstances, but opened the way for a minority to ape the values and life-style of whites. This is a controversial issue that has given rise to quite different attitudes. If one chooses to emphasize the positive aspects of that rising middle class life-style, then the families that ascended into it are to be admired; if, on the other hand, one feels there was need for the entire Black population to struggle as one to improve its lot, then the emerging Black middle class is to be judged on the extent to which it joined or even led that struggle. Of course, things are usually more complex than this simple dichotomy, but at least we might conclude that the social differentiation within the Black community is ambivalent.

Since the 1960s, Black families have imitated the white flight to the suburbs, not only to further their own interests, but to escape deteriorating urban conditions. But before then, partly because of racism, the Black bourgeoisie remained in the Black neighborhoods and so maintained social and political contact with their less fortunate brothers and sisters. It would be hard to exagerate the importance of this for understanding Hartford's Black history.

We therefore need to contrast the life styles of Black working class and the rising Black bourgeosie. The employment situation for Blacks at the time of World War I was not particularly attractive, although the growing economy at least meant there were some opportunities. Blacks tended to be excluded from manufacturing jobs because, in the face of progressive legislation, the owners needed a way to keep the working class divided, and racism served that purpose very well. Blacks continued to fill the traditional menial jobs, as in agriculture (especially the Sumatra shade-grown tobacco fields in Granby) so that whites could think of themselves as superior, and this made them more docile toward the owners. Unfortunately, the labor movement fell into this trap of national chauvinism, racism and sexism. Doing so did bring some benefits to white workers, but only to a certain degree and for a certain period of time; the price for that cooperation is now being paid and organized labor is coming to realize that without the solidarity of white and Black, men and women, everyone looses.


However, there is a more positive note. The enormous growth of government at the beginning of the century meant opportunities in civil service employment. The tradition in the Black community of a military career and of private service probably lent itself to employment in public service, and, of course, ordinary whites would then have Blacks waiting on them much as the elite had enjoyed before, which was politically advantageous to the town élite. So, while we certainly admire the first Black policeman or fireman, more is involved than simply their personal achievement that might serve as a model for others to emulate. So we begin appropriately with a photo of a Black public servant. He is driving a road machine for the Hartford Street Department that apparently smoothed and watered the surface of dirt roads.

Of course, Hartford had brick roads (one is visible in the photo of AME Zion Church on Pearl Street, for example), and in some cases cobblestones (to some extent, the old coblestones and trolley rails still lie under the macadam around the train station), and so it is interesting so see that dirt roads still existed downtown when this picture was taken in about 1925. This would be the case in less central parts of town that were just developing or did not have industry, such as as Park Street, or in older sections that did not participate in the City's industrial and commercial rise.

This photo illustrates the latter case, for it is supposed to show 2 Commerce Street which was the old commercial focus of town along the River shore, but which declined with the rise of railroads in the mid-nineteenth century. That it flooded every spring also discouraged development, and eventually Commerce Street was largely replaced by dyke and highway. Only a small southern section remains today.

Because of the regular spring floods that affect the meadow north and south of Hartford and the City itself before the dykes built after the flood of '38 (when the water reached the G. Fox building), the East Side of the City was called the "Bottoms." Few if any people actually lived on Commerce Street for that reason, but the next street uphill, Front Street (of which only a small section survives north of the footbridge over the railroad line) and then Market Street, was an important neighborhood of Blacks and immigrant Jews and Italians. This varied community, that many insist was Hartford's soul, was obliterated by commercial interests after 1957. Had it been redeveloped as housing for people of modest income, the City would have had quite a different, and perhaps happier, history. Because the East End provided poor working-class housing, the rising Black bourgeoisie apparently avoided it, preferring instead such neighborhoods as that of Windsor Street.

[John Taylor family] Here is a photograph of the John O. Taylor family made in about 1890. Although the family is obscure (perhaps a product of the old Black population in Hartford rather than the wave of more familiar immigrant families from the South), it well illustrates how the rising Black bourgeoisie adopted white values.

First is the cult of domesticity, where the male is represented as the head of a household rather than, say, at work or at play, as would be broadly traditional. In such domestic photographs, it is best that the couple and their children huddle together physically. Although the compulsory idiot smile for the camera had not yet come into fashion, nevertheless a certain benign demeaner was appropriate, indicating the domestic tranquility that resulted from the rule of a civilizing wife. The washed and well-behaved children are the empirical evidence of the success of that civilizing mission. A fundamental trait of the ideology of civilization is literacy, and so naturally the family is here representing as sharing a book (not the Bible, as the new families from the South might have). The husband follows the standard bourgeois dress code that had just emerged during the century, including the mandatory tie. The young child has her toy, and she is at the focus because of the bourgeois cult of childhood. The women present all have custume jewellery - which is as mandatory for the bourgeoisie as the oriental carpet on the floor. Not shown here was an upright piano, but this seems to be a studio photograph rather than one taken in the parlor at home. Being light-skinned, of course, as is the father and daughter here, also helped.

[Hartfor High graduate 1892] Here is an appealing 1892 photograph of a Hartford High School graduate. She would have been among the first Blacks to have achieved that honor, and she probably exemplifies the rising Black bourgeoisie for whom a formal education was particuarly important. She is anonymous, unfortunately, which again hints that the Black bourgeoisie were more from the old families than the new immigrants, and so often not linked to Harford's major twentieth century families.

The sketch here of the social dynamics in Hartford's Black community around World War I is only tentative and in serious need of development. Any interpretation would depend on being able to identify the immigrant families, where they settled, their modes of employment and social relations. Likewise, one would have to develop criteria by which to identify the rising Black Bourgeois families, and then determine where they lived, how they made a living, and with whom they associated. These social dynamics shaped the outlook of the parents and grandparents of the people of Hartford today, and although that outlook is probably dying out, an awareness and understanding of it is necessary in order to construct a viable alternative.

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