Charles Blow hadn’t planned to write a manifesto on reverse migration. In fact, the New York Times columnist and author of the bestselling memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones was just writing...thoughts.
“I just remember one night thinking, ‘Oh, this is a good idea.’ And I just started writing thoughts,” Blow tells us during this week’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit! “I just kept writing because it was in my head—and you know, once you get it into your head, you have to get it out, otherwise it’ll be lost...I kept feeling that, ‘Oh, my God, you’ve been working on this book this whole time and you didn’t know it because you have all these things that tie into this thesis.’”
The thesis? That descendants of the Great Migration—we now-Northern Blacks, as it were—retrace the steps of our ancestors in an effort to consolidate our power in the United States. In essence, Blow is suggesting we reject the grand (and by virtue of Northern-style racism and redlining, somewhat failed) experiment of migration to re-engage with the South—The Devil You Know, as he titled his latest book. The “Black Power Manifesto” was published in late January by HarperCollins, and its author makes a compelling case for a Black liberation movement that runs contrary to our 20th century migratory patterns—and for many of us, our current sensibilities.
“I was fascinated by this,” Blow tells us, “and it occurred to me that, you know—not that reverse migration was a new thing—it’s a very old concept...but thinking of it as using the constitutional tools available to you—breaking no laws, having no armed insurrection, just using the tools and your feet—you could seize power.”
The flipping of the infamously red Georgia, one-time seat of the Confederacy, to blue—by however slim a margin—arguably bolsters Blow’s position. Indeed, the Louisiana-born journalist turned longtime New Yorker had made Atlanta his primary home by the 2020 election season, giving him a front row seat to what a concentration of Black votes (with the tireless efforts and tenacity of Stacey Abrams) can do for democracy.
Considering the fact that at this very moment, Georgia Republicans are trying to find even more creative ways to suppress the Black vote, one might understandably pause at the thought of engaging with unapologetic white supremacists on a local level. As Blow concedes, it’s not for everyone. But don’t delude yourself; there’s more than enough racism north of the Mason-Dixon line—it’s just more nuanced.
“What I’m suggesting is a revolutionary act,” says Blow. “No revolutionary act is without risk and it’s not without resistance. And either we can march every time someone gets shot by the police but have no real change in policies or any of the architecture that put those police officers in contact with those young Black and Brown men and women in the first place, or we can say, ‘No, no, no, we’re about to change this whole thing,’ right? And it’s a choice we make.”
Hear more about the revolution Charles Blow is proposing on Episode 22 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!: The Next Great Migration, With Charles M. Blow, now available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, NPR One, TuneIn, and Radio Public. Also available is a transcript of this week’s episode.