ANDERSON — In 1949, Willie Wilkerson’s mother, a cook for a railroad company, persuaded her only son and his wife, Willie Mae, to move to Anderson with their six children. The couple had six more after they arrived.
In all, nine of the dozen Wilkerson children went on to work for General Motors.
“I think we fared a lot better than my cousins did. But a lot of them ended up moving,” said David Wilkerson, one of the offspring born in Anderson.
The Wilkersons are among many Black families who moved to Anderson from the South as part of what now is known as The Great Migration.
The rise of General Motors in Anderson also contributed to the Great Migrations of Black Americans from the farms and plantations in the rural South to the factories in the cities of the North.
The migration of an estimated 6 million African Americans by train, bus and sometimes horse-drawn wagon between 1916 and 1970 is considered by some historians the largest and most rapid mass internal movement in recorded history. Until about 1910, about 90% of African Americans lived below the Mason-Dixon line, but by 1970, nearly half had moved to the North and West.
The Great Migration to the “Promised Land” was driven by the United States’ unique history of segregation and lynchings behind the Cotton Curtain and a search for better economic opportunities.
The influx of migrants, including Black workers from the South, raised Anderson’s population from 41,572 in 1940 to its all-time high of 70,787 in 1970, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.