The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston, 1900-1941

By Bernadette Pruitt | Go to book overview

PREFACE

Familial bonds and friendships largely inspired this study on the Great Migration to Houston, Texas. Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, in the 1970s and early 1980s, I heard countless stories from family about the South. My earliest recollections of conversations on southern life came from my maternal grandmother, Bertha Juanita Lewis Lively Pruitt, who grew up poor in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1910s and 1920s. Her chats with friends in the early evenings after dinner caught my attention. While enjoying some of my favorite television shows of all time—Good Times, The Jejfersons, Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, Happy Days, and Eight is Enough—I often overheard her fascinating conversations with friends, all of whom either were married or widowed homeowners and devout Christian matriarchs. Grandmama’s banters about her childhood, school years, friendships, travails, and treks to the North struck me as incredible.1

Even though these women relocated to Detroit during the Great Migrations (1915–1970), they had fond memories of the South’s climate, outdoor scenery, kinship traditions, cuisine, social networks, churches, and loved ones left behind. I always wondered why these women set out on this grand adventure for Detroit if their southern communities were in fact so pleasant. Truthfully, life in the South was not always good to these women, particularly to my grandmother, who became a single parent at age fifteen before marrying my grandfather and having my mother years later. Although poverty often followed these working-class southerners turned Detroiters after their settlement in the Midwest, they made do and saw their lifestyles improve slightly.2

After my grandmother met and married my grandfather, a truck driver and native Kentuckian named Mack Lively, like most recent Black migrants, the couple settled in a cramped apartment in Detroit’s historic

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