Aug 13, 2011

When WI fostered the Delta Blues and Mississippians settled in Beloit

Did you know that Wisconsin was instrumental in popularizing the Mississippi Delta Blues and that 75 percent of Black migrants to Beloit came from Mississippi?

The Mississippi migrants brought along the blues to the Midwest. From 1922 until 1932 one-fourth of all blues recordings were made in Wisconsin!

One of the pioneer bluesmen was Son House who recorded for the Paramount record company in Grafton, WI.

Born in 1902 in Riverton, Mississippi, House
began recording for Paramount in 1930. He performed at the Beloit Blues festival in 1970.

In this video I've combined a Wisconsin Son House recording with old Mississippi photos from the Library of Congress.

A good source of information about Beloit migrants is Lucas W. Knowles of Beloit who just graduated from U.W Eau Claire. For an award-winning thesis project, Knowles spent weeks listening to oral histories from migrant families recorded during Beloit's Bicentennial History Project. Many Mississippi men were recruited to work in a Beloit factory during World War 1.

The Great Migration of southern Blacks to northern cities in the first half of the twentieth century is a well documented historical topic. Southern Blacks who had grown restive of the Jim Crow south headed north to urban settings seeking employment and a better life. As a result of this process, many Midwestern cities such as Chicago and Milwaukee experienced drastic social changes. Another city which became a destination during the Great Migration is the small city of Beloit, Wisconsin. Early twentieth century Beloit was a lively manufacturing locale centered on Wisconsin's southern border. At the onset of the First World War, Fairbanks, Morse and Company was experiencing a manpower shortage. To fill the void Fairbanks, Morse and Company began recruiting southern Black men to work in their factory. By offering jobs and housing, Fairbanks, Morse and Company established Beloit as a destination for southern Blacks seeking to leave the south. The research will focus on the events that led to Beloit becoming a Great Migration destination. The role of industry, individuals, and family will be examined to provide the reasoning behind Beloit as a destination during the Great Migration. Overall, the focus will be on the factors that led to Black migration to Beloit in the first half of the twentieth century and the early development of the Black community.

Following is a pdf of Knowles' paper. Be careful to click only "quick view" if you do not want to download the document.

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