Leaving the South took extraordinary fortitude. What dreams and disappointments the North and the West held no one could have foreseen. Wilkerson, somewhat too sketchily, considers postwar urban history—white flight, the closing of factories (that Campbell’s Soup factory has been closed for more than two decades), the disappearance of industrial jobs. Now that there’s no more Jim Crow, she observes, there’s “hypersegregation”: in the 2000 census, Detroit’s population was eighty per cent black; Dearborn’s was one per cent. Most often, she outlines debates about what historians call “the second ghetto,” only to dismiss them. “Perhaps it is not a question of whether the migrants brought good or ill to the cities they fled to or were pushed or pulled to their destinations,” she writes, “but a question of how they summoned the courage to leave in the first place or how they found the will to press beyond the forces against them and the faith in a country that had rejected them for so long.” The questions of social scientists (What is the structure of poverty?) and of policymakers (How can this be fixed?) are not Wilkerson’s questions. “We watch strange moods fill our children, and our hearts swell with pain,” Wright wrote. “The streets, with their noise and flaring lights, the taverns, the automobiles, and the poolrooms claim them, and no voice of ours can call them back.” When Ellison read “12 Million Black Voices,” he fell apart.
more from Jill Leopre at The New Yorker here.