In the autumn of 1944, the mechanical cotton picker ended the South's need for people to pick cotton by hand. At the same time, Chicago's munitions factories were desperate for labour. So the great migration North to Chicago moved into full swing. A night time steam train - its whistle howling out a goodbye to the land of Mississippi - thunders out of America's Deep South. Gospel superstar Tramaine Hawkins sings the classic civil rights anthem Movin' On as more black Americans leave the cotton fields forever. They were going to Chicago, the promised land, to escape form the virtual slavery of the Mississippi cotton fields. For them, as the old American blues number says: "The sun is going to shine on my back door one day."
"A train was that vehicle which could take you to heaven before you die," recalls Vernon Jarrett, who went north after World War II. He became a reporter on the black publication, the Chicago Defender. A woman joining the exodus north recalls crossing the Mason-Dixon line, which divided North from South, and being told: "You can now throw down the 'Yessir' and 'No sir'.You're in the north now." One Chicago-bound traveller reached his destination and was amazed to find that he could sit in the front of the bus for the first time. In the South, blacks always travelled at the back, or stood up, if the whites needed the seats. Another remembers his first thoughts on reaching Chicago. "I'm here. I have money.There's music!" Dorothy Tillman arrived by train and saw the huge drab apartment blocks. She thought they were factories. "Those are not factories. People live there," she was told.
It was an ironic twist that America's first mechanical cotton picker was produced in Chicago during the 1940s. It could do the work of 50 workers and would bring the cruelly unfair system of sharecropping to an end, but speed up the migration. As gospel superstar Tramaine Hawkins sings in the opening credits of the series, it was a time when everyone was "Movin' On" to the land of Cotton Clubs rather than cotton fields. The song was a famous anthem of the civil rights movement which was just starting to develop in "the promised land".
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