My grandmother stands at a frail 5’6 and has been on this earth for 79 years. She hails from the small town of Louiseville, Mississippi, a place that I visited only twice, once only because I was driving through. Her aunt and uncle sent for her after her step-father brutally beat her with barbed wire. She was 19. My grandmother received her one-way bus ticket and wound up in Seattle, Washington, which would go on to be known for grunge music, the Seahawks, and Macklemore. I bet she didn’t see that coming. More than that though, I know she couldn’t have predicted that not one of her three children or six grandchildren would ever call the South home. Until now.
In approximately six months I’ll be moving to the South. Not the cotton-picking-Bible-Belt-South of Gone With the Wind. I’m moving to Charlotte, North Carolina. The “New South.” (I still have no idea what that actually means, having missed my one chance to visit the Museum of the New South, but I’ll find out soon enough!) This is a move I never thought I would make. In life. The older genration in my family circumnavigated the south-to-north railroad routes to places like Detroit and Chicago. They chartered over 2,000 miles of unknown territory all the way to the Pacific Northwest. Forget Great Migration, my folks bolted. So it’s no surprise that I have often viewed the South as a place to avoid at all costs.
Add to that the fact that I actually know, on an intellectual level, what went down for people in the South who looked like me. My graduate degree is in African history and African American Studies, which means that I know how life transformed for the departed from the time before they were shackled, to the Civil Rights movement. So now I gotta reckon with all the horror stories from my family about the South, and actually understanding the archaelogy of the plantations that my ancestors worked on. Thanks a lot, grad school.
I know that I shouldn’t categorically view the South as the source of so much pain. Hell, it birthed us. Not to mention folk endured, carried on with their lives, raised families, praised God, taught us how to boycott, and gifted us all kinds of music. There’s magnificence in that. And yet, I can’t seem to shake my fear that I won’t be able to exist there.
Blatant racism aside, my fear of the South is based on my fear and rejection of Black conservatism. I’m the type of Black woman who won’t get my hair straightened at the salon because I’ll sweat it out during my afternoon workout. I will join a political protest at the drop of a hat. I travel internationally at least once a year. I support gay marriage. I like walking down the street and not having to say “hello” to strangers. And wait for it: I have never identified as Christian, and likely never will. The “Old South” of my grandma’s generation never loved me, but I hope the New South is willing to take a chance.
In recent years the South has witnessed a reverse migration. Many Black Northerners who have had enough of pricey housing, two-faced White liberalism, and tough job markets have headed to places like Atlanta, Dallas, Charlotte, and Raleigh. My husband and I are moving because he landed an awesome job and deep down I know that the South is the best place for me to plug into and shape Black life in ways I always dreamed. Though many Black southern transplants have had to make some initial adjustments, most are finding peace and balance. I hope I will, too.
Update: In a twist of fate and clarity, I wound up moving to Los Angeles. Solo.