African-Americans are leaving the North and returning in record numbers to the American South, the region millions fled in the years after slavery in search of a life free of lynchings, free of the Ku Klux Klan, and free of "Jim Crow" segregation and economic discrimination. The reverse migration is primarily because of the promise of prosperity in the South, reports Leslie Goffe.
BETWEEN 2000 AND 2008, more than two million African-Americans left the North and the Midwest to move to the South, reversing the "Great Migration" which saw millions of blacks leave the South between 1910 and 1970.
After years of decline in its black population, the South is once again the region where the largest numbers of African-Americans live, according to recent statistics from the US census.
"The centre of population has moved in a southerly direction in the most extreme way we've ever seen in history", said the director of the US Census Bureau, Robert Groves.
The reason so many African-Americans are moving South now is because it is claimed there is a "New South", one in which blacks have been elected governors, mayors, and congressmen, and where blacks own multi-million dollar companies and are numbered among the South's wealthiest and most influential citizens.
Enticed by this "New South", which is exemplified in cities like Atlanta in Georgia, which is known as "the city too busy to hate", and is home to the Coca-Cola company, CNN, and other big businesses, African-Americans are eagerly fleeing declining cities in the North in a reverse migration to the South.
And though most of those moving South are doing so primarily because of the promise of prosperity there, and since the region has a much lower cost of living than does the North, it is also because many African-Americans see the South as the land of their ancestors and feel it is calling them home.
"Many African-Americans are in some ways Southerners at heart," says Isabel Wilkerson, author of the book, The Warmth of Other Suns, which traces the migration of blacks from the South to the North and back again. Wilkerson also traces her own family's journey from Georgia and South Carolina to Washington DC, and her visit to the South to discover the land her people left behind, but always spoke fondly of.
"There are lots of reunions going on right now, reunions with second cousins that people didn't know, and a return to the land that they had not really seen but had heard of from afar," Wilkerson says. "There is a culture connection that is going on as well as the economic imperative."
Michele Wood is one of the many young African-Americans leaving declining cities in the North and the Midwest for emerging cities in the South. Wood, a visual artist, packed up her belongings in April this year and left Indianapolis, the city in America's so-called "Rust Belt" where she was born and raised, for Atlanta in Georgia, the Southern state her family came from.
"I feel a kindred spirit to Georgia," says Wood, who published a book, Going Back Home: An Artist Returns to the South, which looks at African-American history in Georgia and the deep longing many blacks in the North have to return to their roots there.
"I'm going back because I love the state," says Wood, joyfully. "I love the people; love the lifestyle. My heart is in the South."
Republic of New Afrika
But years before Wood and hundreds of thousands of other African-Americans began packing up and leaving the North for the South, another group of African-Americans had already headed back there themselves and begun calling for an exodus of black people southward.
In March 1968, during the Civil Rights period, a group of around 100 black nationalists gathered in Detroit, Michigan, in the American Midwest, to launch a movement to convince black Americans to return to the South to create an independent black nation, separate and apart from the United States of America. …