For centuries, America as we have known it has been split into two halves across the Mason-Dixon. And this barrier has represented the line between freedom and enslavement for Black people, the very border between a progressive and liberating North, and a socially backwards, racist South. The reality however, has been much less cut and dry, and the movement of Black people out of the South into other regions, has presented the African-American population with the cold, harsh truth that “The South” is not merely a fixed geographical locale under the Mason-Dixon Line. On the contrary, it is in and of itself America — the full expanse of “cultural, economic, and political soil on which Black communities have been planted and supplanted,” the very ground on which they have evolved, endured, and persevered. Thus, I will argue that the South is the fundamental infrastructure of the Black experience from one “Chocolate City” to another, and it is a shared reality both beneficial and detrimental. Thus, no matter what region of the U.S. Black people travel to, the injustices, culture, and sentiments of the South seem to follow them.
Firstly, it is extremely important to consider that the injustices commonly associated with the South are prevalent in almost every major city in the United States. As such, it is not uncommon that in whatever part of the U.S one travels to, gentrification, redlining, white flight, and residential segregation are prevalent. Not only do these injustices aim at suppressing Black geographical mobility, but they also echo James Baldwin’s sharp commentary on the hypocrisy and immorality of segregation, that “the racial setup in the South is not, for a Negro, very different from the racial setup in the North…Segregation is unofficial in the North and official in the South,” a seemingly crucial distinction that has no impact onimproving the grotesque conditions Northern Black people face. By this token, African-Americans are “ignored in the North and under surveillance in the South,” horribly aching in both regions. It follows then that Black people do not suffer because of where their communities are built with respect to an arbitrary, regional boundary, but rather because of the very color of their skin; no matter where they relocate and rebuild, their blackness is inextricably intertwined with the Southern experience of struggle and revolution that pursues them.
Furthermore, it must be noted that the reason the sentiments of struggle and revolution are constant from Harlem to Haiti, and everywhere that Black folks live, is because instead of being assimilated in White dominated society, Black people have prioritized maintaining their Southern culture, “…the customs and cultural traditions they have come to value” whose inception is so heavily linked to the culture of White domination and slavery in the South. By holding the plight of African people so close to their hearts, and by embracing the music and stories of their ancestors that spurred from the oppression of slavery, the Black community forever carries with it the essence of the South, and passes it on from generation to generation. It is particularly in this way that African-American values are so interconnected with combatting the slavery, barbarism, and injustice of America’s Southern regions, that to be Black is to identify as equal parts Black, American, and Southern, irrespective of what coast and pole one resides in. This realization is fascinating, because it makes evident the interwoven themes of region and identity, that the place a society calls home can be so embedded in the culture and customs of a population across time and space, that even without physically stepping foot in the South can African-Americans be so convincingly influenced by the ideals and tribulations it stands for.
Ultimately, since racism and bigotry follow Blacks wherever they go, geographical movement isn’t always the way towards Key and Peele’s “Negrotown” land of endless opportunity and freedom. In fact, the impression that no “North” exists at all for African-Americans, is a notion woven into the very fabric of Black political culture. From Malcolm X’s contention that everywhere below Canada is the South, to Marcus Garvey’s inclination that freedom at the present moment exists only in Africa, to Zora Hurston’s belief that “…differences in [Black] geography and language” are merely “differences in sounds,” Black Americans have for many years uncovered the overarching similarities of race relations in every American neighborhood; they have realized that the only way to find freedom is to shatter the mosaic of inequality right at home, and to reconstruct their freedom from its pieces. Therefore, it must not be overlooked that for Black people, the theme of “Region” is one that refers not only to a history of geographical movement out of the South following emancipation; just as notably, it is a theme so ingrained in the very identity of what it means to be African-American, that it is to this day widespread in Black music, film, literature, and politics.
Baldwin, James. Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son, Vintage Books. 1993.
Congress, Library of. “Primary Documents in American History.” Plessy v. Ferguson: Primary Documents in American History
Du Bois, W. E.B., The Souls of Black Folk, Modern Library, 2003.
Hunter, Marcus Anthony, and Zandria F. Robinson. Chocolate Cities: the Black Map of American Life. University of California Press, 2018.
Iaccarino, Anthony. “The Founding Fathers and Slavery.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 28 July 2016
“Key & Peele – Negrotown | The Critical Media Project.” Critical Media Project Icon.
Linda O. McMurry, To Keep the Waters Troubled: the Life of Ida B. Wells, (Oxford University Press, 1998)
Madrigal, Alexis C. “The Racist Housing Policy That Made Your Neighborhood.” The Atlantic, 22 May 2014.
Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary: Malcolm X Speeches and Writings (Atlanta, GA: Pathfinder Press, 1992).
Marcus Garvey “Address to the Second UNIA Convention” | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed.
Morris, Aldon D. The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement Black Communities Organizing for Change. The Free Press, 1986.
Wells-Barnett, Ida B. Mob Rule in New Orleans: with, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases. Echo Library/Paperbackshop Ltd, 2005.