the Great Migration
Now, is this possible; is it possible to re-create a world?
Well if you are going to follow the novelist in trying to think
this kind of narrative, you want to think of the Great Migration
in terms of character, in terms of plot, in terms of narrative
structure; so what you're doing in a sense is casting aside the
kind of social science history of the "izations;" you're
casting aside the search, in some ways, for statistics except
there's a frame and you're trying to figure out how you would
write this as a story.
Now to start with character would be to meet some of the men
and women who left the South. OK, who are these people? Now
and one of the questions that interests me that no one
asked is how many of these letters are there altogether?
Are the letters that I handed out all the ones that I could
find? Actually, no that's not true because you alluded
it so that's not correct. But are the letters that fill all these
pages all the ones that are out there? And in point of fact,
know that first of all there are more of these letters available
than were published, especially if you look at other cities.
also know that thousands of these were lost because Richard Wright,
of all people, when he was working for the WPA did as part of
the WPA writer's project, did an inventory of the Chicago Urban
League records, the journals, and in this inventory he refers
to thousands of letters written by southerners preparing to leave
for the North. These are all gone, all these records are gone,
but we know that that's what was there.
[Female voice] If we wanted to send students to look at originals
just to get a feeling for them, where are the large collections?
Well, that's interesting. Because, that's another question
that nobody asked because nobody asked
questions about the sources themselves. No one asked about what
do the originals look like, no one asked how these had been collected,
where are they, how many? I don't know. The first place to look
would be the American Memory Project on the web at the Library
of Congress because the largest collection of these is at the
Library of Congress.
[Female voice] __________
No, no, the only place that I know of where people have large
numbers of these is the Library of Congress. These were collected
by Charles Johnson, a black sociologist, in 1917 who was
studying the Great Migration. Some of them were collected in
Detroit, the Detroit Urban League saved some of them, those
went to Washington.
The National Urban League papers has these letters from Detroit.
[Female voice] What did the Defender do with
The Defender archives
have not yet been very accessible for research purposes. So the
ones that went to, all the ones that Johnson used went
records and so the very few that are still around are there.
published them in The Journal of Negro History, and
that's why we have them, but I've seen a number of these and
it is interesting
to look at them because one of the things you find out, for example,
is that they're written on very cheap paper. They are written
in pencil, the handwriting is often very tentative, the spelling
is poor. So what does--someone asked before about who wrote these.
What would that tell you actually about who wrote them?