Black West Indians in the United States - History and Cultural Relations

Although some came earlier, most Black West Indians immigrated to the United States after 1900 and especially after World War I. They looked to emigrate because of limited Economic opportunities at home and chose the United States Because of its proximity, the promise of economic opportunity, and U.S. immigration quotas that favored British subjects. The majority of the nearly 100,000 who came in the first thirty years of the twentieth century were literate in English, young, single, and able to find work in skilled occupations, though racial discrimination often forced them to take jobs beneath their qualifications. Some dealt with this problem by pooling financial resources to start small businesses and stores, many of which prospered in northern cities. Immigration decreased during the Great Depression and World War II, but increased from 1948 to 1954, decreased again under restrictive legislation, and then increased again after 1965 when quotas were abolished.

Immigrants since 1965 have again been mostly young and single, but in general are less skilled and educated than those who came before them. There has also been a trend toward less concentrated settlement, though West Indians remain mainly in the Northeast and Florida. Relations between African-Americans and Black West Indians before the increased migration beginning in the 1960s were generally hostile. At the same time, however, West Indians were active in politics and many African-American leaders such as Malcolm X, Roy Innis, James Farmer, Shirley Chisholm, and Stokely Carmichael were of West Indian ancestry. In recent years, though tensions still exist, there has been a merging of African-American and Black West Indian interests, and cooperation as well as conflict is now evident.

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