Every year, the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH) sets a new theme for Black History Month and continues that theme throughout the year. 2019 is the year of reflecting on the Great Migration - the 50 years that saw over 6 million Black people leave the South for the social and economic opportunities the North had to offer. And with the opportunity to better understand the history of our past, we can also use it to help us interpret some of the important trends we are seeing today...what some are calling the “Reverse Great Migration.”
First, let’s back up and review some history together. As you may know, The Great Migration gave over 6 million Black families the chance to experience a new reality. Due to anti-immigration legislation and sentiment running rampant during World War I, the northern labor market had a vacancy that Black people, desperate to leave the South, were only too happy to fill. Black people made the trek North, following a promise of a chance to live where they could be treated as whole people. People, not subjected to Jim Crow Laws and unbridled brutality against Black people, but people treated with dignity and respect. People who could make a wage that ensured a brighter future for their children and the generations to come.
Unfortunately, that idealized place just never did come to fruition for so many who made the long and dangerous journey. Instead, when they made it to the North, they faced segregation in housing, education, and White folks divesting from cities and fleeing to nearby suburbs. These patterns persisted and compounded over time, which brought many Black people to a crossroads - continue to stay in cities that grew more segregated every year, or make a change?
Fast forward to now, when census trends are showing another type of Great Migration. Only, this time, it’s from North to South. And unfortunately, the reasons why Black folks are making the move down South now, are strikingly similar to the reasons why the first Great Migration occured. Social structures leading to an over policing of Black and Brown bodies? Check. Housing and educational segregation? Check. And finally, earning a lower wage, having little chance of owning a home or being an entrepreneur - seeing the promise of better economic opportunities elsewhere? Check, check, & check.
Migration is a critical topic in our national conversation today, and it’s not just limited to Black folks moving down South. As we continue to live in a time where the migration of Brown people into our country is used to stir up anti-immigration attitudes and frenzies, it feels direly important to pay attention and learn from the lessons of the past. Squaring off with the inequity in our region, we can confront and push back against the norms that have made northern cities feel unwelcoming, inhospitable, and unlivable for people of color. We have the chance to mold our region into one where ALL people can thrive, if we work hard to dismantle the different forms of segregation that serve as the barriers of today. Looking at the present in the context of the past just goes to underscore how important and necessary our work is - to bring racial equity to St. Louis and our region.
To help you on your way, here are some Great Migration resources for the whole family that span the gamut from past to present.
The ASALH will be a hub of Migration-related information all year long, so be sure to check out what’s in their news!
Curious as to what the trends are showing in terms of North to South Migration? USA Today has a great map that shows the patterns of the “Reverse Great Migration” and the top cities that are gaining and losing Black people.
For the kids…
books on the great migration
The Great Migration - Jacob Lawrence (AOC*, IOC)
This Is the Rope - Jacqueline Woodson (AOC, IOC)
Seeing Into Tomorrow - Richard Wright (AOC, IOC)
The Great Migration: Journey to the North - Eloise Greenfield (AOC, IOC)
Land of Milk and Honey - Joyce Carol Thomas (AOC, IOC)
And for the older kiddos:
Finding Langston - Lesa Cline-Ransom (AOC)
Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson (AOC)
*Author of Color/ Illustrator of Color. Here at We Stories, we are always working to uplift the voices and experiences of characters of colors in the books that we direct families towards. In that amplification, we are continuously mindful of the fact that authors and illustrators of color only make up 15% of published children’s books every year. As always, we strive to flip the script showcasing works that not only feature diverse characters, but also a majority of which are authored or illustrated by people of color.
This blog post was written by Rhema Anazonwu, Program Manager for We Stories