Tracey McKee – March 10, 2022
My husband and I just moved this past week. Our daughters are grown, and it became apparent that we needed less house for just the two of us. While the move made perfect sense for us, I found myself sad at moments because our moving marked the end of an era in our lives. As we began to settle into our new home, one by one, our new neighbors welcomed us. Their hospitality helped me lean into our new circumstances with greater ease and peace of mind, and their kindness even stirred excitement for what will be next for us. What a difference small acts of kindness like a smile, a wave, or cookies left on your welcome mat can make.
While unpacking a box the other night, I was reflecting on the gestures we had received as we moved in. As my thoughts ran, I found myself thinking about a show I had seen advertised on Amazon called, Them. Them follows a Black family moving from North Carolina to California to escape segregation and pursue a better life. Years and decades after the Civil War and Reconstruction, millions of Blacks migrated from the South to the North and West to escape segregation and oppression. The show is an “exploration of the iconic American dream through the eyes of a Black family putting down roots in 1950’s Compton — with all the racist restrictions, violations, and torments…” (Huver). What exactly did the black families face when they moved? Was it not better than what they were suffering in the South?
I searched the web to read accounts of how Black families were treated when they moved from the South after the Civil War. The Smithsonian offered an account of Lorraine Hansberry, whose family moved to Chicago in 1937. She recalled they were met with a “‘hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house.’ At one point, a mob descended on the home to throw bricks and broken concrete, narrowly missing her head” (Wilkerson). Likewise, she remembered having to endure being “spat at, cursed, and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school” (Wilkerson).
As Black migrants landed in cities across the North and West, their hopes of a bright future were dashed. Instead of being welcomed, Black people were met with resistance and violence and even government-endorsed policies to keep them segregated from other residents. They were not greeted with smiles and kind gestures like I was; they were all too often met with open, racial hostility.
Anxious whites used violence and intimidation to keep African Americans off their blocks. Black Americans saw their homes bombed or stoned. As tensions grew, cities tried to restore peace by trampling on the civil and property rights of African Americans. Cities enacted segregation zoning ordinances to keep Black Americans from moving into white neighborhoods.Meyer
I let what I read sink in – really sink in. Instead of the friendly welcome we have received during our move, I imagined having to suffer intimidation, hostility, and violence. How horrible! Home is supposed to be a safe place. Being white, I have been sheltered from experiencing such treatment and sheltered from learning about how Black people endured it across the country. My lack of knowledge has kept me from fully understanding how deep the wounds of slavery, segregation, and discrimination are in our country. Those deep wounds still exist.
As you continue to learn, consider the lasting effects of residential segregation and how some are working to recreate communities to address disparities.
Huver, Scott. “‘Them’ Creator Little Marvin and Star Deborah Ayorinde on Unpacking Black Trauma with Unflinching Honesty.” The Hollywood Reporter. Elisabeth D. Rabishaw and Victoria Gold. June 21, 2021. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-news/them-creator-little-marvin-deborah-ayorinde-1234969129/. Accessed 2 March 2022.
Meyer, StephenGrant. As Long as They Don’t Move Next Door: Segregation and Racial Conflict in American Neighborhoods, Rowman and Littleton Publishers, Inc., 2000. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=0jQtLcwuOLkC&oi=fnd&pg=PP11&ots=dMGFuMrB_E&sig=HSrF45S2oXYYCCbMoeAgOZKqT3I#v=onepage&q&f=false
Wilkerson, Isabelle. “The Long-Lasting Legacy of the Great Migration.” Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Museum. September 2016. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/long-lasting-legacy-great-migration-180960118/. Accessed 3 March 2022.