Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wilkerson's account is rife with complexity.  Little in it is not complex.  On one hand, the entire condition of the Great Migration is complex.  Consider the poem from Richard Wright that serves as inspiration for the title of Wilkerson's work:  

 . .I was taking a part of the South

To transplant in alien soil...

Respond to the warmth of other suns

And, perhaps, to bloom.

Within these lines are a complex condition of being.  African- Americans left the South, the only terrain many of them knew since they and/ or their ancestors were brought to America.  The migration to the North was one in which the South had imprinted itself on them only to find that the North was fundamentally different.  The idea of Southern Blacks moving to the North was also complex given the discrimination they faced in the North as different than what was seen in the South.  The idea of an "alien soil" only enhances complexity because for people of color who found their background intertwined with slavey, "alien soil" is met with more "alien soul." Complexity is thus found in the mere title of the work.

Certainly, the parallel between the Great Migration and American immigration is another layer of complexity within the text.  Traditional immigration to America and the harrowing conditions in which people from other nations migrated to America was a depiction in which the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the dreams of "streets paved with gold" dotted the landscape.  For so long, this was seen as intrinsic to the identity of America. However, while the Great Migration sought to essentially do the same thing, the reality is that it never quite seemed to be viewed in the same light. African- Americans who migrated from the South were viewed with a sense of mistrust and apprehension:  "The migrants were cast as poor illiterates...who imported out-of-wedlock births, joblessness and welfare dependency wherever they went.”  It was as if Nativists were lining up against Southern African- Americans who made the trek up North.  However, the complexity here is that these were Americans moving to another part of America, as opposed to foreigners coming into America. They were American citizens, with guaranteed rights as much as anyone in the North.  Yet, they were perceived as outsiders in some of the harshest light.  It is here in which Wilkerson is able to illuminate another element of complexity.  When Wright suggests that the move was in the hopes to "bloom," it underscores the complexity of the Great Migration, a point in American History and African- American identity where the full promises and possibilities of what it means to be an American were both present and absent in a complex simultaneity.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question