The South Moves North
The most common direction of internal migration in twentieth century literature has been from the South to the North. During the first half of the century, there was a massive migration of African Americans north. Around the middle of the century and a bit later, there was also a steady stream of Appalachians moving north. To a great extent, both migrations were from a rural to an urban environment, from the Deep South and the Southern mountains to Northern cities of all sizes.
During the 1920’s and 1930’s the congregation of African American writers in uptown Manhattan, or Harlem, produced the Harlem Renaissance, an outpouring of literary creativity by such writers as Jean Toomer, Claude McKay, Countée Cullen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Arna Bontemps. These writers tended to write about where they came from rather than their trip; it remained for the next two generations of African American writers to say more about the great migration itself.
Among African American writers the great migration evokes the immigrant pattern of seeking the American Dream. Crossing the Mason-Dixon line was like a personal declaration of independence. The North was the promised land, and Harlem was heaven. Toni Morrison’s Jazz (1992), set in 1926 Harlem, captures this mood:At last, everything’s ahead. The smart ones say so and people listening to them and reading what they write down agree: Here comes the new. Look out. There goes the sad stuff. The bad stuff. The...
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