Blacks Trek South: Isabel Wilkerson's Take
The author of an epic study of the Great Migration says it paved the way for the new exodus south.
If [blacks] wanted to leave, they had a place to go. It was the first time in American history that African Americans, the lowest-caste people, had a choice.
When the Great Migration began, there were 10 million African Americans in the U.S. You were looking at a million leaving per decade. By the end of it, half [of blacks] had been redistributed to the rest of the country. Currently there are 35 million to 40 million African Americans. Even the movement of a million people would not have the same impact now that it would have then.
TR: The motivations for the Great Migration were largely economic as well as political: for example, physical intimidation of black people. Today the reasons for the reverse migration seem more diffused.
IW: I prefer the term "return migration" as opposed to "reverse migration." That's because "reverse migration" makes it seem the people had made a mistake and are going backward. I don't believe any migration is ever a mistake or going backward. It's a universal human story no matter what our background.
There are many migrations that have occurred in this country -- from Europe, from the Caribbean, from Asia. Any migration is a decision made by people who have thought things through and choose another place as the best place for their family. Any migration is a referendum on the place they are leaving and an expression of hope for where they chose to go.
That region [the South] is now a different place. It still has a long way to go. But it's a different place from when the Great Migration began. They're returning to a place different from what it was before because of the effects of the departure and the sacrifice that their ancestors made.