STUDIES SURVEYS REPORTS Charles Drake “Migration Myths” 1960

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Migration Myths
by Charles Drake

“Migration Myths” by Charles Drake. The Council of the Southern Mountains, Inc., 1960. [drake_migration_001]


TAGS: Charles Drake, migration myths, Southern Appalachian migration, cultural experience, historical and sociological studies, Council of the Southern Mountains, IQ test scores, racist theories, migration shock, migrant children, genetics

001 – Cover Page

Charles Drake

“The scientific material available to us at present does not justify the conclusion that inherited genetic differences are a major factor in producing the differences between the cultures and cultural achievements of different people or groups. It does indicate, on the contrary, that a major factor in explaining such differences is the cultural experience which each group has undergone.

“Available scientific knowledge provides no basis for believing that the groups of mankind differ in their innate capacity for intellectual and emotional development.

“Historical and sociological studies thus support the view that genetic differences are of little significance in determining the social and cultural differences between different groups of man.”

From the Revised Version of the UNESCO Statement on Race, 1951 [The Race Question is the first of four UNESCO statements about issues of race. It was issued on 18 July 1950 following World War II and Nazi racism to clarify what was scientifically known about race, and as a moral condemnation of racism. It was criticized on several grounds and revised versions were publicized in 1951, 1967, and 1978.]

The boy had just arrived at a Kentucky boarding school from his home deep in the mountains. He carried most of his worldly possessions in a battered suitcase held together by one good clasp and a piece of frayed rope.

Trying to put him at ease, a teacher in the school asked: “Where are you from?”

“I ain’t from nowhere,” he replied “but it’s closest to Hazard.”

This youngster from “nowhere” may be uncertain about his past, but he already has some ideas about his future. Brokedown suitcase in hand, he is on the move–a symbol of man eternally in transit. And unless the school is able to transform him into a “standard” American, this “newcomer,” with his strange stride, will someday make a whole city skip a step while he is being shoved into the ranks.

As this young man joins with others of his group moving from areas of rural deprivation to urban centers of greater economic promise, he and the others will at times very probably come face to face with an indictment charging them with either low intelligence, genetic inferiority, inbreeding, shiftlessness, general immorality, and/or hereditary depravity.

How valid are these charges?

The answer to this question should determine the philosophy that must be adopted in working with migrant populations. If there is a basic genetic inferiority, then we should adapt for use with these groups methods already being used in work with mentally subnormal groups in institutions. If, on the other hand, the problem is primarily cultural rather than psychobiologic, then entirely different methods must be used, aiming toward social and psychological development of a more normal sort.

It must be granted that in looking at migrant groups, surface impressions frequently seem to support the contention of genetic inferiority. The average migrant seems to be more poorly equipped to solve the problem of urban living than the average member of the established urban growth. He will often show lower levels of economic independence and work skills. His children will almost always score lower on IQ and achievement tests in school. His wife is apt not to take advantage of those public welfare benefits that would help her family.

And certainly, no one can deny that migrant groups usually contain some individuals who do not conform to established behavioral norms. Nor can we minimize the social dissonance produced by the sudden influx of a newcomer group with cultural patterns that clash with the existing order.

Who is right, then? Are migrants genuinely inferior people or are they attuned to cultural values which are simply so different that they prevent full development as normal members of the new community?

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To aid in finding an answer to these questions there is a growing body of objective research data dealing with at least one aspect of the problem: Intelligence.

In general, research studies have found that migrating groups score lower on IQ tests than do native groups. However, this lower IQ does not seem to be a particular attribute of just those individuals migrating. Both migrants and stay-at-homes from the same population stratum score lower. In the United States, for example, rural people tend to score lower than urban dwellers. The general trend is for migrants to come from rural areas. It is therefore to be expected that rural migrants will have lower IQ scores.

In the same way, minority-status groups tend to have lower IQ scores than the dominant population. Migrations of minority groups in recent years have been heavy. It is therefore to be expected that recently-arrived migrants–and those whose status remains so classifiable even after several years of residence–will score low on IQ test. 

The demanding question is Why?

Many theories have been proposed to explain these low IQs. Several of the major ones are presented here, together with research bearing on each hypothesis.


The theory of selective migration holds that (1) the brighter members of a subculture go out to seek their fortune, leaving behind the less able and less intelligent to bear succeeding generations; or conversely, that (2) the duller members leave while the brighter ones stay at home.

Those trying to explain the low IQ scores in the non-migrating portion of the subcultural population resort to the first form of the hypothesis, while the urban dwellers who must deal with migrating members of the same subculture are apt to use the second form. The obvious contradiction does little to shake faith in either theory.

Selective migration has occasionally taken place. Large numbers of people have left England and Scotland for three centuries, and have left Ireland, Denmark, and Norway for a century–without any measurable loss of general intelligence among those left, if we consider the entire population of each country.

Closer to home, an excellent example of massive out-migrations can be seen in the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Canada. Population losses have been severe since Confederation in 1867. Of the just over a million people living in the two provinces in 1941, 80,000 had left by 1951. If “selective migration” took out the smarter people and left the stupid, the trend should now be showing up in terms of lowered school achievement among pupils in school. Such is not the case. The entire third grade population of both provinces was sampled with the Metropolitan Achievement Test battery in 1959. Mean scores were almost exactly at the 

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U.S. norms, suggesting perhaps that in terms of achievement the Maritime children are fully as capable as U.S. children. The Achievement scores are even more remarkable when viewed in relation to the fact that only 20% of the teachers in these provinces have more than one year of college training.

As far as can be discovered in research literature, no valid evidence has been offered to substantiate the selective migration hypothesis. Until such evidence is available, selective migration should be regarded as a part of the folklore of migration, without validity in making decisions about migrants.


A second migration theory often explains lower IQ scores in terms of intermarriage among close relatives–that supposedly takes place among economically depressed groups, especially in rural areas. According to this theory, “inbreeding” produced a “weakening of the strain” with a consequent rise in the number of mental defectives.

The validity of this theory can be questioned both in regard to the incidence of such inbreeding and to its effect when it does occasionally occur.

The number of cases in which inbreeding can be shown is small in research literature. Where such groups can be found, however, the evidence indicates that there is no significant difference between intermarrying and non-intermarrying groups in terms of intelligence.

Eaton and Weil have studied the Hutterites, a religious community in the western U.S. and Canada where close inbreeding has taken place over several generations because of the practice of marrying only within the sect group. The study shows that the incidence of mental deficiency cases among Hutterites falls within the normal range. Intelligence scores also indicate a normal range: indeed, there is even the suggestion that the mean for the group may be above normal. 

In the U.S., Herndon was able to find 66(?) inter-marrying families, made up of 223 individuals, living in isolated pockets in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. When tested, the group had a mean IQ score of 94.5, which was within normal limits for a rural population, and which showed no significant deviation from other rural North Carolina families living in communities where no intermarriage took place.

The same pattern can be observed among the Acadian population of Nova Scotia who returned in small numbers following their expulsion in 1755. Of 337 telephone subscribers in one village, 181 instruments are listed under only two family names. Despite the intermarriage, achievement scores of school children in this community fall into the same normal range as in other nearby communities inhabited by populations with British Isle ancestry.

The evidence seems to indicate that while inbreeding does occur, it is much rarer than generally supposed, and that there is little or

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no evidence to indicate that it produces lowered intelligence or achievement when it does occasionally occur. Until evidence to support the “weakening of the strain through inbreeding” theory is forthcoming, it can best be regarded as a migration myth.


If low IQ scores cannot be accounted for on the basis of selective migration or inbreeding, then what is the answer? A third hypothesis falls back on a basically racist theory that contends that some groups are “naturally” superior while others “just don’t have it where it counts.” 

Perhaps the Negro group in America has had to contend most with this particular theory. At one time there was even “evidence” to support it. The distinguished sociologist Howard W. Odum published a volume in 1910 on Social and Mental Traits of the Negro in which he stated the conviction that Negroes were inferior to whites. However, by 1936 he wrote an article in Social Forces called the “The Errors of Sociology” in which he lists as one error “…the assumption that races are inherently different rather than group products of differentials due to the cumulative power of folk-regional and cultural environment.” 

A wide variety of studies since World War I confirm this statement. Garth’s study of Indian children adopted into white families and Roherer’s studies of Osage Indian children in families where income from oil wells enable them to achieve a higher educational level show clearly that Indian IQ’s are at or above the white norm when they have equal opportunity for social and educational development.

Studies of Negro groups by Klineberg and Davis show the same pattern–equal opportunity produces equal IQ’s. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this was the rise of IQ scores of Negro men between the first and second World Wars. While Negroes scored lower than whites on Army tests during the First World War, it was found that northern Negroes scored higher than southern whites in World War II.

In summary, it seems possible to say, on the basis of research findings so far, that neither racial nor ethnic group superiority or inferiority has been proved. Indeed, just the opposite seems to be the case. Whenever a socially limited, low IQ group gains access to greater educational resources, the IQ almost always goes up. Therefore, in the absence of data that would tend to prove the intellectual inferiority of any particular groups, we must regard the theory as a myth.


If the older theories seeking to explain the low IQ scores usually associated with migrating groups cannot be validated by research findings, then we must look at these same findings to see what they do say about IQ.

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The following findings seem well substantiated:

  1. Group IQ scores are seemingly influenced by socio-economic changes in the group. H. Long found in a Washington, D.C. study that IQ’s of migrants did not stabilize until they had lived in the city for about eight years. Leo found the same evidence in Philadelphia. The superior test score achievement of northern Negroes over southern whites in the Second World War reflects the same phenomenon. Skeels and Harms, in a study at the Iowa Child Welfare Station of children born to occupationally and intellectually inferior families and adopted into average or superior homes, found that the IQ’s of these children conformed quite consistently to the norms of their adoptive parents, with averages substantially higher than those of their natural parents.
  2. Cultural limitation tends to produce a progressive depression of IQ scores from childhood to late adolescence. One of the findings of research is that the children in almost every ethnic group seem to start out with approximately the same intelligence. Repeatedly it has been shown that children in areas of cultural limitation will have normal IQ scores in the first grade, but will become “progressively more stupid” as they grow older.

Skeels and Fillmore found this phenomenon among orphanage children; Garth and Johnson among the Mexican population of Texas and New Mexico; and Haught among the Indians of the Southwestern U.S.

The same pattern has appeared in several studies among children in the Appalachian South. Edward and Jones found that the mean IQ of a group of children in the mountains of Georgia was 108 at seven years of age, but had dropped to 70 at 15 years. In East Tennessee, Wheeler studied 3000 children in 40 different mountain schools and found a progressive loss of IQ from a median IQ of 102.6 at six years to a median of 81.3 at 15 years.

Sherman and Key report the same phenomenon among the “hollow” children in Virginia, as does Asher among pupils in Eastern Kentucky.

This apparently little-known phenomenon perhaps bears out Johnson’s back-handed statement that “you can make much of a Scotsman if you catch him early enough.” Certainly it tends to substantiate the belief that lower achievement in school by migrants is probably due primarily to the limited background from which they have come, since almost universally today the migrant is drawn from culturally underdeveloped areas. These findings seem to give confidence that the same range of intelligence is present among migrants as among other populations.


Another aspect of the low achievement, low IQ problem among migrants is that of cultural shock induced by migration. In general, migrants who come to a city are not migratory. The children of migrant families have frequently known only a very limited lifespace before making the one move which makes them “migrants.” There is the

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possibility that migration creates a “cultural orphanism” among children–a state which several child welfare workers claim to have found. A similar condition can apparently happen when any subcultural society is overwhelmed by a dominant culture. In Greenland, for example, Danish teachers working on the island refer to the “closed Greenlander”–the Eskimo child caught between his seal-hunting background and the machine shop in his school, with consequent inability to achieve in either cultural milieu.

Something akin to this pattern has been observed among migrant children in the U.S. and the problem deserves far greater study than it has received.


Research studies seem to cast grave doubts on older explanations of the cause of low IQ scores and low achievement records among migrant children. No evidence is found to support theories of selective migration, inbreeding, or genetic inferiority of certain groups. 

Research seems to show that the same normal curve of intelligence holds for all ethnic groups. Tests of first graders among subcultural groups have almost universally disclosed that IQ scores are normal at that level, with a subsequent progressive loss, depending on age and degree of cultural difference.

The evidence would seem to warrant the conclusion that migrant children have an intelligence potential not unlike the established population, and that eventually, under favorable circumstances, they can achieve at a normal level. End


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For More Information, See:

“Council of the Southern Mountains Records 1912-1970.” Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, Kentucky. See Abstract. Accessed 2023-Feb-06. Internet resource.

Hiernaux, Jean and Michael Banton. “Four Statements on the Race Question.” UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESDOC Digital Library, Paris, France 1969. Accessed 2023-Feb-06. Internet resource.

“This booklet reproduces the texts of four statements on the race question prepared by groups of experts brought together by Unesco in 1950, 1951, 1964 and 1967, as part of its programme to make known the scientific facts about race and to combat racial prejudice. The names and qualifications of the experts responsible for the preparation of each of the statements are given at the end of each. The statements are preceded by two essays, one by Professor Hiernaux, biologist, University of Brussels (Belgium), the other by Professor Banton, sociologist, University of Bristol (United Kingdom), on the four statements and the relationships among them. The views expressed in the essays are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Unesco.”

Kiffmeyer Thomas. Reformers to Radicals: The Appalachian Volunteers and the War on Poverty. University Press of Kentucky 2008. Accessed 2023-Feb-06. Internet resource.

UNESCO Paris. “The Race concept: results of an inquiry.” United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESDOC Digital Library, Paris, France 1952. Accessed 2023-Feb-06. Internet resource.