By Roy Betts
More than 1,000 educators, historians, students and community and government leaders convened for the 93rd annual Black History Month luncheon hosted by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) in Washington, D.C.
The nation’s premier Black History Month event focused on ASALH’s 2019 theme Black Migrations, which emphasizes the movement of people of African descent to new destinations and subsequently to new social realities.
Black migrations are stories of “pain and unbridled hope” that “ultimately are about our striving, about our endurance, and about our perseverance in America,” said Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, ASALH national president and history department chair and Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and African and African American Studies at Harvard University.
The luncheon featured a panel discussion on Black Migrations led by Dr. Jelani Cobb, the Ira R. Lipman Professor of Journalism at Columbia University. Other panelists were Dr. Gloria Browne-Marshall, professor constitutional law at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Kojo Nnamdi, host of radio shows “The Politics Hour” and “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” on WAMU 88.5 at American University; and Dr. G. Derek Musgrove, associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
As reported in an article written by LaMont Jones for Diverseeducation.com, speakers on the panel noted that Black Americans continually forged new identities with each major transfer of population, from the Great Migration from the agricultural south to the industrial north to a current reverse migration of sorts back to the south.
“Folks are constantly negotiating what it means to be African American on the back end of these migrations,” said Musgrove.
Events that have triggered forced or voluntary Black migration punctuate “400 years of perseverance” seeking economic progress, safety, and respect, yet “when we reinvent ourselves, laws change to undermine our progress,” said Browne-Marshall.
Immigration from the Caribbean, Africa, and across the African diaspora can affect and be affected by Black migration events in the United States, and racism and oppression of Blacks everywhere has created a common bond, said Nnamdi.
Current implications of Black migration are informed by various demographic shifts, particularly ones that have seen African Americans move outward from major cities such as the District of Columbia and New York — where they had been a large part or the majority of the population — because of economic factors.
The large Black population of Prince George’s County in Maryland was partly a response to cost and quality of living issues in D.C., and it’s important to understand such phenomena when considering how Black Americans are “on the move” today, said Musgrove.
Black people tend to migrate where they perceive opportunities to be, which may be behind the decision of large numbers to return to southern roots from the North and Midwest in recent years, observed Browne-Marshall.
She questioned where the next Black migration should be.
“Out of this country?” she asked. “Back down South? Are we going from the frying pan to the fire? Or do we want another frying pan?”
Roy Betts is a member of ASALH’s Marketing and Public Relations Committee.