cover image Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots

Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots

Morgan Jerkins. Harper, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-287304-0

Essayist Jerkins (This Will Be My Undoing) sets her family history against the backdrop of the Great Migration—the period from 1910 to 1970 when six million blacks left the South for other parts of the country—in this forthright and informative account. Contrasting her father’s frequent visits to his childhood home in Fayetteville, N.C., with her mother’s lack of knowledge about her family roots, Jerkins sets out to fill in the “blank spaces and missing pieces” of her identity. Visiting Georgia and South Carolina, she documents the systematic erasure of Gullah Geechee culture and reveals her maternal great-grandfather’s escape from two different lynch mobs. Her paternal great-grandfather’s roots in Louisiana Creole country send Jerkins to Natchitoches Parish, where she wrestles with her preconceptions about skin color and relates the story of the Metoyer family, once the wealthiest “free people of color” in America. In Oklahoma, she investigates links between African-Americans and Native Americans; in L.A., she juxtaposes the myth of California in the black community with the reality of white flight and gang violence. Jerkins’s careful research and revelatory conversations with historians, activists, and genealogists result in a disturbing yet ultimately empowering chronicle of the African-American experience. Readers will be moved by this brave and inquisitive book. Agent: Monica Odom, Liza Dawson Assoc. (May)