As late as 1911, a leading American geographer could confidently assert that blacks in the United States would always live chiefly in "the warm, moist air of the Gulf and South Atlantic states," "where they find the heat and moisture in which they thrive"; nature decreed that few would ever settle and fewer survive in the North because they could not withstand the cold. Events, though, were contradicting this blend of racial and climatic determinism. Black migration from the South to the colder states was already substantial. It intensified dramatically during World War I. A boom in labor demand in industry, along with a near-cessation of the immigration from Europe that had once filled it, drew black and white southerners alike in unheard-of numbers to the manufacturing cities of the North. The black exodus to Kansas in 1879 and 1880 had briefly looked as if it would become just such a mass interregional movement of population. But the pioneer Exodusters had suffered from the drastic change in climate, most of all because it affected their livelihoods in farming. Their skills, which lay in cotton growing, were useless in Kansas, and their experience did little to encourage others to follow. The great northward migration of the early twentieth century was a migration not to new farmlands but to the cities for factory and service employment. The difference in climate between southern origin and northern destination did not matter much to it. White southern farmers, fearing the loss of cheap labor, warned departing blacks that they would find the winters of the North too bitter to endure. The new exodus proceeded all the same, and it discredited in the process the long-held idea that either race or habit always imposed a latitudinal pattern on human movement. The change in climate from South to North did mean discomfort or worse for many who undertook it. They suffered especially from the unaccustomed cold that few could afford stoves and fuel to ward off—though they had suffered too from inadequate shelter and clothing in the southern winter.
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