Everybody is reading about it. From Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns” to the hot new Oprah Book Club pick “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie,” stories of the Great Migration have captured our imaginations. These narratives describe the movement of six million African-Americans out of impoverishment in the rural South to become the backbone of the 20th century industrial working class.
We often speak of The Great Migration as a force that changed the shape of black families, and formed the roots of black economic power. Less often do we speak of it as a story about relationship to land.
African-Americans today often speak of The Great Migration as black people “leaving” the land. This idea presumes that the only real land is in the rural South. It forgets the place-based stories free Northern blacks told of seeking to reunite with their families during Reconstruction (a story Leonard Pitts‘ latest novel “Freeman” captures so well.) It also supposes that leaving the Jim Crow South was a form of abandonment, as if African-Americans have some essential or elemental commitment to remain in a place where they were once bound. Yet, moving across land is also a relationship, and carrying a culture from one location to remake it in another is a relationship to place that is profound.
Many Black/Land narratives include stories about migration. Do you have a migration story of your own? Are you a descendant of The Great Migration? Or migration from another country? Where are your people from, and what do you know about their journey? How did they go about setting down roots in a brand new place?