The Great Migration: Leaving vs. Staying

While discussing our current assigned reading, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, in class, Dr. Moore gave us a few topics and ideas for our journals. One of the topics/ideas that caught my attention was a question that was brought up, “Why stay? and Why leave?” This question was basically asking to think about reasons why black people might have wanted to leave the South and migrate to the North to also think about why black people might have decided to stay in the South. This was interesting to me because I thought about the fact that many families in the South, have large parts of their families that moved to the Northern and Western portion of the Country during the Great Migration, myself included. The reasons why black people might have wanted to leave the South during this time period seemed pretty obvious to me, more jobs (due to industrialization), possibly less racially motivated terror towards black people, and overall a “better life’. What seemed confusing to me is why any black people actually wanted to stay in the South. While thinking this over I also considered the possibility that some black people in the South didn’t necessarily choose to stay in the South and that they possibly felt that they really had no choice. Picking up an entire family and moving across the country is certainly not a easy task and there a many things to be considered when doing so. For example, where would they live, where would they find work, and importantly, what happens if this “better life” that was promised is not all that it might seems to be. Migrating to the North and Western states was definitely a brave and risky decision that black families made during this time period and it is understandable that some families might not have seen the risk as being worth it. Something else I considered is that while overall conditions weren’t good for black people in the South, that some black people might have gotten used to their lives, neighborhoods, families, friends, etc in the South and did not particularly find the need to leave any of that behind. While thinking of all of this I thought of my own family, particularly my great-grandmother (born in 1919) who was a child of sharecroppers in North Carolina and worked a decent part of her life as a sharecropper and also as a farmer/gardener. I thought about the fact that for most of her life, she never really learned to drive or do many things that might seem to be a requirement for “city living”. While at first I used to think of how unfortunate it was that she never learned to drive or use a computer now that I think back, she was very satisfied with her life. I remember questioning her when I was younger about why she still farmed and gardened in her old age even though she really didn’t have to any more (because her children took care of her financially) and she told me “it’s all I ever knew how to do”. While thinking of this example in my own life it led me to think about the many black families that decided to stay in the South and how maybe they felt that agricultural work was what they knew, so they might as well stick to it. These points brought a lot of different thoughts to my head about The Great Migration and the decisions that were made during that time period

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