We’ve heard it over and over: During the 20th century, poor Appalachians hit the hillbilly highway north to Detroit, where they found work in factories and warehouses. … There’s truth in that, but it’s an oversimplification. Although Appalachians arrived in great numbers, people from all over the South landed in Detroit, working in a variety of industries. Many people started and operated their own businesses.
One of my favorite resources for this project is James N. Gregory’s “The Southern Diaspora,” published by University of North Carolina Press (2005). Gregory is professor of history at the University of Washington and director of the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project. His book presents historical data on the movement of white and black southerners across the United States (during the decades covered by this project), as well as an eye-opening social and cultural analysis – including many references to Detroit. If you’d like to dig deep into some of the major changes that transformed American society in the last century, I recommend it.