The Great Migration and the Democratic Party

Black Voters and the Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century

Keneshia N. Grant
W.E. B. DuBois Book Awardee, National Conference of Black Political Scientists, 2021
Book Cover

PB: $27.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1746-6
Publication: Feb 20

HC: $74.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1745-9
Publication: Feb 20

Ebook: $27.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1747-3
Publication: Feb 20

214 pages
5.25 x 8.5
12 tables, 1 figs., 3 halftones, 1 maps

Examining the political impact of Black migration on politics in three northern cities from 1915 to 1965

Read the Introduction (pdf).


Where Black people live has long been an important determinant of their ability to participate in political processes. The Great Migration significantly changed the way Democratic Party elites interacted with Black communities in northern cities, Detroit, New York, and Chicago. Many white Democratic politicians came to believe the growing pool of Black voters could help them reach their electoral goals—and these politicians often changed their campaign strategies and positions to secure Black support. Furthermore, Black migrants were able to participate in politics because there were fewer barriers to Black political participations outside the South.

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party frames the Great Migration as an important economic and social event that also had serious political consequences. Keneshia Grant created one of the first listings of Black elected officials that classifies them based on their status as participants in the Great Migration. She also describes some of the policy/political concerns of the migrants.

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party lays the groundwork for ways of thinking about the contemporary impact of Black migration on American politics.


" By meticulously examining the effect of African American migrant voters upon mayoral elections in Chicago, Detroit, and NY City, Grant adds to the conventional narrative that many Blacks primarily converted from being Republicans to the Democratic Party during the New Deal era.... The Great Migration and the Democratic Party rewrites the earlier understanding of the development of the American party system and of African American politics, helping readers to understand the political progress of African Americans during the 20th century: how Blacks developed from being acted upon towards becoming transformative political actors in American politics. Indeed, the subject matter of Grant’s book endures and is very relevant."
Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics

"The Great Migration and the Democratic Party urges scholars to recognize the Great Migration not only as a process through which Black Americans were shaped but also as a vehicle through which Black Americans themselves actively reshaped the nation.... Grant’s detailed political histories of Detroit, New York, and Chicago...are assets to students and scholars alike.... Grant demonstrates decisively that the balance of power was a main character in the political history of the Great Migration – but it played this role as a political idea and social science fact at the same time."
New Political Science

An impressive work of political scholarship, The Great Migration and the Democratic Party captures the political agency of Black migrants to the urban North. Tracing Black political activity across Chicago, Detroit, and New York City, Grant shows how migrants eagerly grasped the possibility of place by engaging in strategic coalition building with local parties. Political activism, in turn, led to the election or appointment of Black women and men to local and state offices, giving political voice and influence to the new migrants and, in some cases, to the Black Americans disenfranchised in the South. The possibility of the Black ‘balance of power’ vote and the activism of Black officials created the northern urban roots of the Democratic Party’s twentieth-century realignment. Grant’s careful historical scholarship and political analysis provide a clear and systematic breakdown of the Great Migration and its consequences.
Kimberley Johnson, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at the Wagner School, New York University, and author of Reforming Jim Crow: Southern Politics and State in the Age before Brown

Scholars have long analyzed the Great Migration’s social and economic effects on U.S. cities. In this well-documented study, Keneshia Grant goes where few scholars have gone before, by focusing on the Great Migration’s significant political consequences on U.S. cities. Using in-depth case studies and historical analysis, Grant demonstrates how the massive influx of Black migrants from the South transformed local political regimes in Detroit, Chicago, and New York. She paints a vivid portrait of the political agency of Black migrants from the South, including many who won election to local, state, and federal offices in their adopted cities.
Marion Orr, Frederick Lippitt Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Political Science, Brown University, and co-editor of Latino Mayors: Political Change in the Postindustrial City (Temple).

"(A) useful and informative resource for a widely diverse audience. Above all, it reads like a novel.... Readers of The Great Migration and the Democratic Party will gain new insights about the evolution of the Democratic Party and thereby a greater understanding of why the party operates as it does today. Members of both major political parties who read this book will understand why and how political parties recruit, retain, and support African American voters. Finally, this groundbreaking book will spark debates about several important minority, urban, and partisan political issues."
Perspectives on Politics

" Keneshia Grant has authored a valuable contribution to the already rich body of scholarship on the Great Migration.... Grant’s claim that Black elected official(s) brought their constituents’ concerns to legislatures, urban machines, and the Democratic Party itself is persuasive.... (A)n informative book, which should be of value to both urbanists and African Americanists."
Journal of Urban Affairs

Table of Contents


1. Party Change and the Great Migration
2. Black Migration in American History
3. Detroit
4. New York
5. Chicago

Additional Sources

About the Author(s)

Keneshia N. Grant is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Howard University.