“Although racial prejudice existed in the upper Midwest before the Civil War, it was compensated for to a degree by the availability of new land or recently partitioned and inexpensive land. Interestingly, many of western Wisconsin’s earliest black settlers came as extended free family units that had been encouraged to leave North Carolina, and these groups came with moderate capital and purchased farmland near the towns of Pleasant Hill and Hillsboro. These were free-born farmers, and they came with some education, agriculture-based objectives and close-knit family values….
“Rosser Howard Taylor [in “The Free Negro in North Carolina,” 1920] wrote that many free blacks had never been slaves and that some had free ancestors who had fought in the Revolutionary War. The terms ‘Waldens’ and ‘old issue’ were applied to this group. Many owned farms that could be converted into cash. In North Carolina a clear distinction was drawn between old issue and manumitted blacks. Waldron was a common surname among black settlers in Hillsboro, Wisconsin….”
— From “For Labor, Race, and Liberty: George Edwin Taylor, His Historic Run for the White House, and the Making of Independent Black Politics“ by Bruce L. Mouser (2011)
“Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore [in “Gender and Jim Crow”] recounts a debate on a summer night in 1901 in Charlotte, North Carolina, between two well-educated young women, Addie Sagers and Laura Arnold, on the topic ‘Is the South the Best Home for the Negro?’
“Sagers argued against going North, where, she said, the only jobs open to blacks were ‘bell boy, waiter, cook or house maid,’ and where Northern unions excluded blacks from their ranks. Arnold, her debate opponent, railed against the violence, segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks in the South. She agreed that ‘the unknown was frightening,’ but added, ‘if the Puritans could cross the oceans in small boats, surely North Carolina’s African-Americans could board northbound trains.’
“Gilmore notes that Arnold’s ‘received more points than any other speech that night.’ Two weeks later, Arnold ‘took her own advice and moved to Washington, D.C.’ ”
— From “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson (2010)
“Candace Wilkins, 27, of St. Albans [a middle-class neighborhood in Queens], who remains unemployed despite having a business degree, plans to move to Charlotte, N.C.
“She said her decision was prompted by an altercation with the police.
“In March 2010, witnesses say, Ms. Wilkins was thrown against a car by a white police officer after she tried to help a black neighbor who was being questioned. She was charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct….
“ ‘Life has gone full circle,’ said Ms. Wilkins, whose grandmother was born amid the cotton fields of North Carolina and moved to Queens in the 1950s.
“ ‘My grandmother’s generation left the South and came to the North to escape segregation and racism,’ she said. ‘Now, I am going back because New York has become like the old South in its racial attitudes.’ ”
— From “For New Life, Blacks in City Head to South” on today’s New York Times front page
Hyperbolic generalizations aside, reverse migration has been well documented in census data. How long before it inspires its own “The Chickenbone Special” or “The Warmth of Other Suns”?