THE 1800s - 1900s
The stream of migrants to the United States was relatively small compared with the flow to Central America and Cuba. While 108,000 people entered the United States from the entire Caribbean region between 1899 and 1932, it took only two islands, Jamaica and Barbados, to supply more than 240,000 laborers to Panama between 1881 and 1915. The migration to the U.S. was also distinct in another important respect. Those who immigrated to this country were disproportionately literate and skilled, with a significant number being professionals or white-collar workers.
The number of black people, especially those from the Caribbean, who migrated to the United States increased dramatically during the first three decades of the twentieth century, peaking in 1924 at 12,250 per year and falling off during the Depression. The foreign-born black population increased from 20,000 in 1900 to almost 100,000 by 1930.
The second decade of the twentieth century, by contrast, would see a deliberate attempt to block the entry of black people into the United States. Despite the dramatic fall in immigration following the outbreak of World War I, by the end of 1914 Congress was debating legislation that would drastically restrict newcomers. Senator James Reed of Missouri secured quick passage in the Senate of an amendment to the bill excluding members of the black or African race from entry into the country. The African-American press was unanimous in its condemnation of the measure, and the National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People voiced its strong opposition.
But, remarkably, the greatest opposition to this piece of legislative racism came from Booker T. Washington. He was uncharacteristically passionate and combative on the question and, to his credit, pulled out all the stops to kill the amendment. He mobilized his influential network of powerful supporters, white and black—the "Tuskegee Machine" - and personally waged a campaign in the major newspapers against the measure. Washington vigorously reminded Americans of the indispensable labor that Afro-Caribbeans had performed in building the Panama Canal. They should not now be slapped in the face, he said, and told they cannot enter this country. He organized a massive lobbying campaign and even black opponents of his usually accommodationist positions, such as W. E. B. Du Bois and cofounder of the NAACP and newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter, joined forces with him on this issue.
The level of Caribbean immigration picked up after the United States entered World War II in 1941. Almost 50,000 Caribbean’s (black and white) settled in the country between 1941 and 1950
“Voluntary migration to the city began in the late nineteenth century, but it was not until the 1910s that a more permanent West Indian community emerged. Their numbers would increase to roughly five thousand by the early 1950s, or roughly 12 percent of the city’s black population.
Immigrants came mainly from the islands of Jamaica, Barbados, and Montserrat. West Indians came to rely on migration as a survival strategy amid long-term structural problems in the British island economies, including over-reliance on single cash crops, exploitative foreign commercial activities, and an underdeveloped manufacturing sector.
West Indians settled largely within or near existing African American communities in Boston, reflecting the role of racism and segregation in shaping the choices of black immigrants. In the early twentieth century, they settled mainly in the Crosstown area of the South End (around Massachusetts Avenue) and in the historically black sections of Cambridgeport. By the late 1930s, some West Indian families—along with African Americans—were moving south into Roxbury as Jewish families moved out.
The diffusion of West Indian settlement accelerated after 1968 when the Boston Banks Urban Renewal Group agreed to end racially discriminatory lending practices across a swath of Roxbury, Dorchester and northern Mattapan. With mortgages now more readily available, West Indian families were among the first to purchase homes in these formerly white (and mainly Jewish) neighborhoods along Blue Hill Avenue. By the 1980s, these areas became predominantly black, with visible concentrations of new immigrants from Haiti and the West Indies. A smaller percentage of West Indians have also moved to the suburbs, mainly to Randolph, Malden, and Brockton.”
Material resource credit from Boston Global, Boston College Department of History
Examine our data page on Caribbean American in the state of Massachusetts and their location of residency.