European immigrants and black freedmen moved to the western portion of America in search of new opportunities, while dispossessed Hispanics struggled to survive in their stolen homeland.
Examine the racial and cultural diversity of western settlers
The railroad offered the Chinese lower wages and more dangerous jobs than white workers.
Significant numbers of Japanese arrived in California as permanent settlers.
In the Old West, many Finns went to Minnesota and Michigan, Swedes to South Dakota, Norwegians to North Dakota, Irish to Montana, Chinese to San Francisco, German Mennonites to Kansas, and German Jews to Portland, Oregon.
African Americans served in all capacities in the West, including as fur traders, miners, cowboys, Indian fighters, scouts, woodsmen, farmhands, saloon workers, cooks, and outlaws.
The all-black town of Nicodemus, Kansas, was founded in 1877.
Dispossessed Hispanics lived in border towns with barrios of intense poverty.
African Americans who fled the Southern United States for Kansas in 1879 and 1880. After the end of Reconstruction, racial oppression and rumors of the reinstitution of slavery led many freedmen to seek new places to live.
An African-American soldier in the U.S. Army, serving in one of a number of segregated units under white officers in the period after the U.S. Civil War up to the final racial integration of the U.S. military at the end of the Korean War.
European immigrants to the United States in the 1800s often lived in communities in which individuals had similar religious and ethnic backgrounds. For example, many Finns went to Minnesota and Michigan, Swedes to South Dakota, Norwegians to North Dakota, Irish to Montana, Chinese to San Francisco, German Mennonites to Kansas, and German Jews to Portland, Oregon.
African Americans served in westward expeditions as fur traders, miners, cowboys, Indian fighters, scouts, woodsmen, farmhands, saloon workers, cooks, and outlaws. The famed Buffalo Soldiers were in the all-black regiments of the U.S. Army (with white officers). They served in numerous western forts. About 4,000 blacks came to California during the Gold Rush.
The Exodus of 1879, also known as the "Kansas Exodus" or the "Exoduster Movement," was the mass movement of African Americans from states along the Mississippi River to Kansas in the late nineteenth century. It was the first general migration of blacks following the Civil War. One of the most important figures of the Exodus was Benjamin "Pap" Singleton. To escape the Ku Klux Klan, the White League, and the Jim Crow laws, which continued to make them second-class citizens after Reconstruction, as many as 40,000 Exodusters left the South to settle in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado.
In the 1880s, blacks bought more than 20,000 acres of land in Kansas, and several of the settlements made during this time still exist today (such as Nicodemus, Kansas, founded in 1877). This sudden wave of migration came as a great surprise to many white Americans, who thought that black Southerners were free in name only. Many blacks left the South with the belief that they were receiving free passage to Kansas only to be stranded in St. Louis, Missouri. Black churches in St. Louis, together with eastern philanthropists, formed the Colored Relief Board and the Kansas Freedmen's Aid Society to help those stranded in St. Louis to reach Kansas.
The "Kansas Fever Exodus" refers specifically to 6,000 blacks who moved from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas to Kansas. Many in Louisiana were inspired to leave the state when the 1879 Louisiana Constitutional Convention decided that voting rights were a matter for the state (not federal) government, thereby clearing the way for the disenfranchisement of Louisiana's black population. The Exodus was not universally praised by African Americans. Indeed, Frederick Douglass was a critic of the movement. Douglass did not disagree with the Exodusters in principle, but he felt that the movement was ill-timed and poorly organized.
The California Gold Rush encouraged large migrations of Hispanic and Asian people, which continued after the Civil War. Chinese migrants, many of whom were impoverished peasants, provided the major part of the workforce for the building of the Central Pacific portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Most of them went home by 1870 when the railroad was finished, but thousands stayed in America. They also worked in mining, agriculture, and small businesses, many living in San Francisco. Significant numbers of Japanese also settled in Hawaii and California permanently.
Many Hispanics who had been living in the former territories of New Spain lost their land rights to fraud and governmental action when Texas, New Mexico, and California were formed. In some cases, Hispanics were simply driven off their land. In Texas, the situation was most acute, as the "Tejanos," who made up about 75 percent of the population, ended up as laborers employed by the large white ranches that took over their land. In New Mexico, only six percent of all claims by Hispanics were confirmed by the Claims Court. As a result, many Hispanics became permanent migrant workers, seeking seasonal employment in farming, mining, ranching, and the railroads. Border towns sprang up with barrios of intense poverty. In response, some Hispanics joined labor unions, and in a few cases, led revolts. Known as the California "Robin Hood," Joaquin Murieta led a gang in the 1850s that burned houses, killed miners, and robbed stagecoaches. Starting around 1859 in Texas, Juan Cortina led a 20-year campaign against Texas land grabbers and the Texas Rangers.
Migrant workers in the United States have come from many different sources, and have been subject to different work experiences. Prior to restrictions against the slave trade, agriculture in the United States was largely dependent on slave labor; contrary to popular myth, slavery, while more prominent in the Southern plantation system, was used in both the North and South as a way of supplying labor to agriculture. However, over the course of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the slave trade was banned and slaves emancipated, foreign workers began to be imported to fill the demand for cheap labor.
There were many sources for cheap labor. Workers from China were the first group to be brought to the United States in large numbers; however, the federal government curtailed immigration from China with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. At the turn of the twentieth century, workers from Mexico and the Philippines began to enter the United States to work as cheap agricultural laborers. Other sources of cheap agricultural labor during this time were found in unskilled European immigrants, who, unlike Chinese, Mexican, or Filipino laborers, were not brought to the United States to work specifically as cheap laborers but were hired to work in agriculture nonetheless. Many European migrants who worked as agricultural laborers did so with the goal of eventually purchasing their own farms in the United States; however, due to the difficulty farmhands faced in accumulating capital, they often did not reach this goal.
The experiences of migrant laborers in agriculture during this period varied. Workers from England experienced little difficulty, as they shared a common language and Protestant religion with many Americans and, thus, faced little prejudice and assimilated into American society easily. On the other hand, workers from Catholic countries, such as Ireland and Germany, were subject to a number of prejudices. Employers viewed Mexican workers, who continued to be brought into the United States on a temporary basis during the twentieth century, desirably, as they generally did not strike or demand higher wages and, therefore, were seen by managers as being satisfied with their working conditions. However, the use of Mexican migrant laborers declined during the Great Depression, when internal migrant workers from Dust Bowl states moved west to California, taking jobs normally filled by Mexican migrants.