Segments in this Video

The Greenville, Mississippi Club (03:47)


Long-time residents of Chicago are returning to Mississippi for a reunion with families and friends. Fifty years ago African Americans left the Jim Crow laws of the South to find opportunity up north in the largest migration in U.S. history.

Growing Up Poor (03:15)

Mae Bertha Carter was born in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Sharecropping was a form of control and slavery. One woman recalls starving all day at school before coming home and cooking a small meal for her family.

Cotton Picking over Education (02:46)

Most African Americans in the South never received an education. The school year revolved around the farmers' needs. White children attended most of the year while black children only went on rainy days.

Joyous Return (02:38)

Members sing at the New Mount Pilgrim Mission Baptist Church in Chicago. The Greenville, Mississippi Club arrives to reunite with family and friends.

Mechanized Cotton Pickers (03:03)

Between 1915 and 1965 migrants left the South in two great waves. By 1929 racial segregation, poverty, and the devastated cotton crop had driven more than 1.5 million blacks from their rural homeland. The second wave began in the 1940s.

Highway 51 Blues (03:13)

African Americans remember taking the Greyhound bus headed north to Chicago with no money and nowhere to go. Others drove or hitchhiked. There were no hotels for blacks so roadside naps were the only way to sleep.

Mississippi Chicago (02:31)

"Dispossessed Field Hands Stream north to Chi-Town" Bill Ratner. A simulated newsreel portrays Chicago as welcoming place for African Americans. Family members left the South one at a time until they could all be reunited.

Mecca of Civility (03:59)

Blacks who had moved to Chicago returned with money and cars. Radio made people dream about going north. New arrivals from the South usually moved in with family members. In some cases entire communities relocated to make a new life.

Racism in North and South (02:39)

In the early 20th century conditions in the South were unbearable for African Americans John Wiley refused to give up his seat to a white man. The next day he resigned from his job and moved to Chicago to avoid trouble.

Uneducated in the South (03:30)

The migrant stream headed north or west along the most direct routes, ending up in different parts of the country. Blacks from Mississippi preferred Chicago. Not all African Americans chose to leave the South.

City of Opportunity (03:21)

Members of the United Steelworkers of American, Local 5544, Chicago recall how easy it was to get a job. Chicago was the hub of the railroad industry. There were also opportunities for entrepreneurs and service workers.

Brownsville Way of Life (02:57)

A simulated newsreel shows the Bud Billiken parade in the south side of Chicago. Citizens are said to be celebrating the achievements of one of "America's most dynamic communities." Businesses and professional were abundant.

Greenville, Mississippi Club Party (02:11)

The migration process that brought Brownsville into being also created new communities in every major city. The Greenville Travel Club has chapters in 14 cities across the U.S. Members meet every year for a reunion.

Exploitation in Housing (02:31)

Landlords charged higher rents per square foot than those charged for spacious apartments in Chicago's white neighborhoods. After World War II black soldiers came back with the desire to move out of overcrowded neighborhoods.

Discrimination in Housing (02:37)

Blacks who served in World War II returned home to a country where they could not get home loans. Deeds included a clause preventing the owner from selling to anyone who was not white. Chicago was as segregated as the South.

Block Busters (02:19)

When a black family would move into a white neighborhood property values dropped and residents left. Black Chicagoans seeking a way out of the ghetto had to move south.

Violent Acts of Discrimination (05:13)

Two African American women recall terrorizing events that occurred after they moved into all white neighborhoods. The boundaries of the black neighborhoods continued to expand until the late 1960s when black migration into Chicago slowed.

Cabrini-Green Projects (03:06)

For the first residents public housing promised relief from poorly maintained dwellings. By the 1960s government regulations and increasing numbers conspired to contain black people who lacked income, education, jobs, and hope.

Economic Decline in Chicago (02:24)

During the 1960s and 70s the dreams of Southern migrants and their children were further dimmed when the high paying, union protected manufacturing jobs began to vanish.

Effect of Fear on Community (03:02)

Between 1975 and 1990 more than half of Chicago's manufacturing jobs disappeared. People who had jobs were afraid to walk the streets with those who didn't. Cabrini-Green became a terrifying place to live.

Saga of Great Migrations Continues (05:15)

For the millions of blacks who fled the South the American dream of freedom and opportunity was the beacon to the North. For many the dream was realized as they became the black middle class, for others the dream has been deferred.

Credits: Goin’ to Chicago (03:09)

Credits: Goin’ to Chicago

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Goin’ to Chicago

3-Year Streaming Price: $199.95



The movement of African-Americans from the rural South to the cities of the North is one of the most momentous yet least heralded sagas of American history. This award-winning documentary tells the story of the mid-century black migration through the testimony of some Mississippi Delta natives who relocated to Chicago during this era. A steelworker, newspaper editor, blues musician, and others recall the trip up Highway 61 in search of good factory jobs, and the vibrant city-within-a-city of thriving black businesses that they found. But just as the American Dream was achieved, steel mills and stockyards closed, leaving newer immigrants trapped in decaying public housing projects and inner-city despair. (70 minutes)

Length: 70 minutes

Item#: BVL49756

Copyright date: ©1994

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

CINE Golden Eagle Award   


“Filmmaker George King is to be congratulated for the vitality and ingenuity of Goin’ To Chicago, an ambitious chronicle of the two waves of 20th-century migration that swept black Americans from the rural, agrarian South to the industrial North and West....Entertaining enough to have already earned the CINE Golden Eagle Award, Goin’ to Chicago allows display a light and innovative touch in a generally ponderous genre”  Creative Loafing   


“Serious narration and songs spanning the decades, from field calls to street rap, are effectively melded with the varied visual elements. Arrestingly sketching personal vignettes of Southern roots, migrant hopes, and both the rewards and disappointments of that promise in the sweeping mural of significant social change, this is an excellent resource for classroom and library audiences. Recommended.”  Booklist      


Recommended by Teaching Sociology.  


Recommended by Video Librarian

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