10 October 2016

Chicago's Ties To American South Much More Recent Than Great Migration

An article in Chicago Magazine suggests that the Windy City's ties to the South generally, and to Mississippi, in particular, are much more recent and pervasive than generally understood.
In 1986, Nicholas Lemann wrote a lengthy, two-part series for The Atlanticon crime and poverty in Chicago. One of the things he encountered was just how Southern Chicago is
Although the migration ended in the early seventies – again, because jobs had become scarce in Chicago – there is still considerable movement back and forth, and the South is very much in the minds of black Chicagoans. Most of the very successful local blacks who are held up as role models are southern-born: Jesse Jackson (South Carolina), John H. Johnson, the owner of Ebony (Arkansas), Oprah Winfrey, the TV host who appeared in The Color Purple (Mississippi), Walter Payton, of the Chicago Bears (Mississippi), the Reverend Johnnie Colemon, the pastor of the biggest church in Chicago (Mississippi).
Black Mississippians go to Chicago too. Recently, at a student assembly of a black Catholic grade school in Canton [Mississippi], I asked the children how many had been to Chicago, and nearly every hand went up. Often they went for long visits with relatives in the summers. (How many want to live in Chicago when they grow up? I asked. No hands. Why not? An immediate chorus: “Too dangerous.") At one of Chicago’s worst high schools – Orr, on the West Side – I asked a class how many were born in Chicago. Almost everyone was. But almost everyone’s mother had been born in Mississippi. Many of the mothers of a class of eighth graders at Beethoven School, an elementary school whose students all live in the Robert Taylor Homes, were from Mississippi.
Part of Lemann’s thesis, not that he ignores the effects of segregation and concentrated poverty, is that the divide between city and backcountry was also brought north: “Every aspect of the underclass culture in the ghettos is directly traceable to roots in the South – and not the South of slavery but the South of a generation ago. In fact, there seems to be a strong correlation between underclass status in the North and a family background in the nascent underclass of the sharecropper South.” Lemann also found the opposite—a correlation between middle-class status in the nascent middle-class of urban Canton and mobility in the North.
It isn't the first time I've seen parts of the United States described as virtual colonies of a place of origin of its migrants, but it is the first time I've seen this particular connection made to Chicago.

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