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African American Population Map

  • African American Population Distribution Map, 1890
This map used data from the 1890 census to display the distribution of people categorized as "colored."
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African American Population Distribution Map, 1890

Population distribution maps can illustrate graphically changes that can be used to describe the historical setting of people of a particular area. Such maps can also show economic and social trends. At the time of the 1890 census, the African American population of the United States was estimated at 7.5 million, or 11.9% of the total population, with most of the population in southern states. This population map, however, reveals concentrations of African Americans in northern cities, including New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Toledo, and Chicago.

Prior to the Civil War the vast majority of the African American population was enslaved in the South. Following the Civil War, many African Americans in search of work moved to urban areas where they hoped to make a better living working in commerce and manufacturing. The so-called Exoduster movement that occurred in the spring of 1878 saw many thousands of African Americans leave former slave states, such as Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi, for Kansas. African Americans also moved to parts of southern Ohio and central Missouri, and west to scattered areas in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California. Disillusioned after the promises of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments gave way to Jim Crow laws and social, professional, and economic discrimination, the Exodusters hoped to find a better life outside of the South.

African Americans have been involved in several large migrations in the twentieth century. The Great Migration, which spanned from the years from 1910 to 1930, was triggered by the combination of increased wartime labor demands and African Americans' desire for a better life. Increasing racial discrimination and segregation and the disenfranchisement of most African American men at the turn of the twentieth century made life difficult in southern states where good jobs were hard to find in towns and cities as well as in agriculture in the countryside. In 1910 it is estimated that of the nation's eight million African Americans seven million resided in the South, but during the Great Migration, more than one-tenth of the United States African American population made their way North. Despite hopes for a better future outside of the South, many African Americans still had to contend with discrimination, poverty, and overcrowding in their new northern communities.

For Educators


1.  What do the different shades of red or orange on the map mean?

2. Describe one way maps can be used better to understand history.

3. List reasons why many African Americans moved to northern states.

4. What were Jim Crow Laws?

Further Discussion

The Great Migration was just one migration movement in the United States. What other mass migrations influenced American history? What other movements were specific to African Americans?


Library of Congress Bibliographic Information-Population Map

In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience

Suggested Reading

Cohen William. At Freedom's Edge: Black Mobility and the Southern White Quest for Racial Control, 1861–1915. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991.

Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How it Changed America. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

Painter, Nell Irvin, Exodustors: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1992.