Friday, January 29, 2016

Products of the Great Migration

"People as diverse as James Baldwin and Michelle Obama, Miles Davis and Toni Morrison, Spike Lee and Denzel Washington, and anonymous teachers, store clerks, steelworkers, and physicians, were all products of the Great Migration. They were all children whose life chances were altered because a parent or grandparent had made the hard decision to leave" (10). --Isabel Wilkerson

This semester, I'm teaching an African American literature course comprised of 45 first-year black students. In class on Thursday, I was mentioning the Great Migration to the students; the subject was on my mind because I'm reading Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns with a different group.

I mentioned that we are "all products of the Great Migration," all having been deeply affected by the movement of so many black folks. How so? Someone asked. Well, let's try this, I said: Raise your hand if you have family members from Mississippi. While nearly all of my students from places in or near Chicago, over half of the class raised their hands.

It was an illuminating moment for us to see that so many of us were tied to southern roots and routes.

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