Why New York Was a Sanctuary for Southern Born African-Americans

The Big Apple’s long history as a sanctuary city pulled in people from around the world. They also came from around the country. These migrants included Bertha Whitney, a sharecropper’s daughter from the South.

Bertha joined the Great Migration of 6 million African-Americans who left the countryside and small towns for urban centers throughout the northeast and west. The first wave arrived between 1910 to 1940.

The second wave, from 1940 to 1970, included 16-year-old Bertha. In 1959, she left Mullins, S.C. and followed her older sister to Brooklyn. Like their fellow migrants, they came for a better life.


Bertha and her siblings worked on their father’s sharecropped farm, growing and selling cucumbers. Sharecropping replaced slave labor through the mid-1900s.


As sharecroppers, they rented small plots on farms and agreed to share any profits with their landlords. In reality, many fell into heavy debt after renting equipment and borrowing money for seeds from landowners. Unpredictable harvests were also a problem.

The Great Migration of Bertha and others like her reshaped American culture—everything from politics to music. The influx of African-Americans and housing segregation created ghettos in the cities and white flight that built suburbs just beyond the city limits.