Should Black Northerners Move Back to the South?

Historians in the News
tags: African American history, book reviews, politics, urban history, Great Migration, 20th Century history

THE DEVIL YOU KNOW

A Black Power Manifesto

By Charles M. Blow

Leading up to the 2020 presidential election, Stacey AbramsLaTosha Brown and other grass-roots activists successfully registered an unprecedented number of Black voters in Georgia who had been stymied in the past by voter-suppression tactics. Their work brought key victories to Democratic candidates in the state and demonstrated the political power of Southern Black women.

Georgia’s recent presidential and Senate elections are relevant to the argument of the New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow in “The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto.” There are two Black Americas, he says. One is the world of those who remained in the postslavery South. The other is inhabited by those who fled the South for refuge in what he terms “destination cities” across the North and West during the Great Migration. But these cities are now broken, according to Blow, and the Great Migration has been a “stinging failure.” Blow, a son of Louisiana who recently moved back south — to Atlanta — says Black Americans must bridge this divide.

In what he believes would be “the most audacious power play by Black America in the history of the country,” Blow calls for African-Americans to reverse-migrate south, to collectively dismantle white supremacy by using their ancestral homeland as a political base. He imagines a New South where “our trauma history is not our total history.” That Black people have been returning south for at least the past 40 years, he adds, demonstrates that there is fertile ground for his idea in the region, intellectually and materially.

His is a familiar argument, revitalized by the South’s recent political developments. A genesis for Blow’s Black power proposition could have been the Black Belt nation thesis, proposed by Black Communists in the 1920s, or the agenda of the Republic of New Afrika in the 1960s. But Blow instead builds upon the political thought of the freethinking white hippies who moved to Vermont in the early 1970s with the intent of transforming the state’s conservative electoral politics. They succeeded, he says; young Black people today should follow their blueprint.

Seeing Georgia flip blue in the 2020 election became Blow’s “proof of concept,” and for him, one thing now seems clear: The path to lasting Black power is through the vote. Forming a “contiguous band” of Black voters across the South — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, in particular — would “upend America’s political calculus and exponentially increase” Black citizens’ influence in American politics. The weakness in Blow’s plan is that it requires faith in a political system that has consistently failed Black Americans at nearly every turn.