Skip to content
CityLab
Justice

It’s Time to Stop Calling it ‘The Great Migration’

For people of color watching over their shoulder this Independence Day, the fear of police interference harkens back to a historical moment with a much-too-benign label.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.Brentin Mock

Last week, a white woman, Linda Krakora, called the police on a 12-year-old black boy for mowing a lawn too close to her property, just outside of Cleveland. Around the same time, another white woman, Alison Ettel, called the police on an 8-year-old black girl for selling water without a permit. In May, a white woman, Sarah Braasch, called the police on a fellow black Yale student for napping outside of her dorm. That same week, in Oakland, a white woman, Jennifer Schulte, called the police on black people barbecuing in a park. A white woman manager of a Starbucks in Philadelphia called the police on two black men for going to the bathroom without ordering coffee.

All of these events happened not in the former Confederate South, but in northern cities. In fact, Buzzfeed recently reported a surge in 311 calls from certain gentrifying parts of New York City, many of them about trivial nuisances such as “playing dominoes.” These are cities located above the fabled Mason-Dixon line where African Americans fled throughout the first half of the 20th century during a time period known perhaps too safely as “The Great Migration.” During this time period, millions of African Americans escaped the racial terrorism of the south in hopes of finding sanctuary in the cities of the north. Instead they walked right into a whole other variety of racial harassment from white people, but evoking the same white supremacist principle that the mere existence of black people in a public space should be met with suspicion and policing. The recent instances of white women calling police on black people under the pettiest circumstances is just a continuation of that tradition, but it’s important to remember on this Fourth of July how we got here.