I’m go out on a limb with this statement but, I’m pretty sure that every Black person that lives in the North has family from the South. It’s a bold assumption but, I’m pretty confident in that assumption. I’m from Flint, MI. My dad’s parents are from Mississippi and migrated in the 1950s to Michigan to work in the “shop.” My mom’s mom is from Alabama and mom’s dad is from Mississippi. They too migrated to Flint, MI to work in the shop as well as their sibling’s one behind the other. I love having southern roots. I love hearing about the stories of how my grandparents and great aunts and uncles grew up. I love hearing about the stories of my parents and their cousins getting shipped off “Down South” for the summer to “Big Mama’s” and “Big Daddy’s” house. I’m filled with so much pride when I hear them talk about family that are long gone and still around. And like all Black families (mine is not exempt) I love meeting my extended family down south some of which are blood related and some which are not.
That is the beauty of the Black family, their reach goes far beyond blood relations. That’s why Black families and communities have a fundamental and primary place in African American cultural conservation. What I mean by that is the interaction between relatives and close associates establishes the base from which Black cultural attributes derive. These attributes create a sense of pride and appreciation for African American identity and it legitimizes the worth of what is called “cultural resources.” Cultural resources are the interactions between parent, children, teachers, neighbors, family and, community members, collectively help to find meaning in shared heritage. Family establishes the ground work in giving its members what they need to know to survive, express individuality, and discover their identity. Community as an extension of family furthers this valuable work in preserving heritage, knowledge, arts, skills, and values. Extending the work from family and community to the schools can assist in fostering cultural awareness and pride which are of the greatest importance in the conservation of traditional ways of life.
The topic of family is a great way to make culture connections with all children. Every American (expect Native Americans) has a family migration story. For many African Americans a direct family connection to Africa is unknown; however, a strong connection to the South is. Most African Americans from the Southern States came to the North during a period called “The Great Migration.” The Great Migration was the movement of almost six million African Americans from the South to the Northeast, Midwest, and West from 1910-1970. This movement was born out of hope for better jobs and opportunities that the South couldn’t offer. Whether families still live in the South or currently in the North, they continue today with traditions, cuisine, and customs that originated from their Southern roots.
To help you begin your discussion about The Great Migration read Back Home by Gloria Jean Pinkney illustrations by Jerry Pinkney. The story is about an eight-year-old girl who was born in North Carolina but lives “up North.” She takes a trip back home to North Carolina to connect with her family and her southern roots.
If you would like to do an activity that accompanies this blog post download the “Where Yo’ People From?” activity sheet.
Click image to download.
Check out Teaching Tolerance’s lesson plan series called “Family Tapestry: My Family is the Same. My family is Different” for some projects you can do with your children at home.