Black job-seekers’ exodus from N.C., circa 1890

“Communities in Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia watched as huge crowds of local blacks gathered at railroad stations to await transportation to the Mississippi Delta, the Louisiana rice or sugar fields, or the turpentine camps of the piney woods.

” ‘At the depot an interesting spectacle presented itself in the huge mass of luggage piled on the platform,’ a New Bern, North Carolina, newspaper reported in 1889. ‘Old meat boxes, various other boxes, barrels, trunks of all shapes and sizes, were piled 10 feet high. The train could not accommodate all who wanted to go.’

” ‘The negro exodus now amounts to a stampede,’ David Schenck of Greensboro wrote in his diary in 1890. ‘Nineteen passenger coaches filled to the doors, nine cars filled with baggage, 1,400 negroes… on their way to Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.’ ”

— From “The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction” by Edward L. Ayers (2007)

Ayers writes that states of the Upper South such as North Carolina suffered the greatest relative loss of blacks in search of work. Despite the awestruck accounts from  New Bern and Greensboro, most headed north rather than west.