Post by Phil Hutchings, BAJI Senior Organizer
Practically every African American has been touched in some way by the great Black Migrations out of the Southern states between 1914 and 1960. Most everyone has a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt or some family relative who was a participant in that historic migration. In the case of the author, my mother's family came from small towns near Memphis, Tennessee, while my father and his father migrated from Macon, Georgia. Both parts of my future family ended up in Cleveland, Ohio, where I was born.
But the migration continues. People have not stopped moving from place to place. Today the United Nations tells us that across the globe there are 230 million people not living in their country of birth, with 2/3 of them being from the continent of Africa. More people are migrating from one country to another, or within the same country than ever before in human history.
Some of these migrations are caused by wars, climate changes or chances for family reunification. But most of the migration in today’s world is caused by the forces of economic globalization and foreign aid policies based upon the privatization of resources for the wealthy, which has made making a living next to impossible in many countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia.
But migration is not only a geographical phenomenon, but also a psychological one as well. The late scholar Florette Migri in her book titled "Black Migration: The Movement North, from Myth to Man" reminds us that one of the byproducts of migrating was the inner transformation of people, i.e., changing notions of who they were and what they were capable of accomplishing.
Today in 2011, many years after the great migrations and now over 50 years since the glory days of the Civil Rights Movement, we see a situation where most African American communities in major cities and many small towns are worse off in many respects than they were in the past. Statistics on unemployment and underemployment, bad housing, poor schools, health problems, incarceration, and the widening racial wealth gap all paint a dismal picture of where we are today as a people.
And perhaps because of the above-mentioned statistics, African American migrations continue into the present time. Many Black people have made a "reverse migration” back to fast growing cities of the New South. Even in cities of the North and the West Coast, there is a pattern of black migration out of the old “inner-city neighborhoods" to mostly black suburbs outside the traditional city boundaries.
At the same time many newcomers from global migrations caused by economic globalization are increasingly moving into what were once majority Black communities. Historic black communities are increasingly dealing with people from all parts of the world, particularly from Mexico and other Latin American nations, along with peoples from Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Are there still "black communities" today? Where does "black space" exist now in the complex of U.S. metropolitan communities? Are these "newcomers" in our areas "competitors", "neighbors", or potential "allies"?
How to respond to these new challenges of the 21st century? This is the type of work the Black Alliance for Just Immigration deals with in its regular community and political work. There are no easy answers but we know that with the system as it is, that there will be no real progressive changes for anyone or any group unless we find ways to understand one another’s’ histories and issues and to blend our struggles together in a united front for social and economic justice and real community security.
Being that February was Black History, we look to creating our Black Future in the present. We stand on the shoulders of those migrants who came before us. Those ancestors of the post First and Second World War migrations who left all they had in the South to travel into unimagined experiences where the reception they often received was one of hostility and danger.
In their struggles, they were able to transform themselves and eventually the entire country as well. Their mass movement from the South to the North transformed the so-called “Negro Problem” from a Southern regional issue to a national issue. The fight against racism became more complex as we moved from rural areas to major metropolitan areas and into industrial sectors. Those who came before us met their challenges then and in this era of globalization, we can and must do the same.
Phil Hutchings is a veteran of the Southern Freedom Movement of the 1960's with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. Currently he is the Senior Organizer with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration based in Oakland, California.