Fall 2021 - Class Option #3
A Place Called Home: Great Migrations, Folk Life, and the Chicago Renaissance
“By the time the Great Migration was over,” writes Isabel Wilkerson in the epilogue to her sprawling “epic story” The Warmth of Other Suns, “few Americans had not been touched by it.” From World War I through the end of the Vietnam War, African Americans kept coming out of the American South, to the North and West, mostly to cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Tulsa, Cleveland, Detroit, Wichita, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Like many other migrants and immigrants, they were often obstructed, misrepresented, and rebuked on the beginnings and ends (not to mention in the middles) of their trips. Yet they kept coming, and their movement, as well as its aftermath, culturally redefined the United States, along with the migrants themselves.
This seminar will be an intensive, interdisciplinary study of literature, music, film, and visual art produced during and about the first and second waves of the Great Migration, from roughly 1917 until 1970. We will explore the Chicago Renaissance as a cultural flowering of the Migration’s first wave, and consider the philosophical and cultural critiques offered by the African American intelligentsia of the period. In addition, we will examine the migration of Black Folklife—faith practices, music, foodways, and vernacular iterations—and chart its impacts across and beyond the US. Finally, the class will explore what some sociologists and urban studies scholars have called a “reverse migration,” citing a statistical exodus of African Americans out of the Great Migration’s destination cities in numbers that now rival or exceed the movement itself.
We will also focus on themes of home, community, and physical place and space, ideas that we imagine will be especially resonant for first-year students. They may be meaningful in different ways depending on how the school year unfolds in 2021-22, but we expect that students will be able to find important points of engagement about these concepts, whether in person or remote.
Sample course texts may include:
Clarke Hine, Darlene. Black Chicago Renaissance
Griffin, Farrah Jasmine. Who Set You Flowin'
Angelou, Maya. Down in The Delta (film, 1998)
Hughes, Langston. Selected Poems of Langston Hughes
Perry, Tyler. Madea’s Family Reunion (film, 2006)
Larsen, Nella. Passing
Reed, Christopher. Roots of the Black Chicago Renaissance
Stewart, Jacqueline. Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity
Toomer, Jean. Cane
King, George. Goin’ to Chicago: Personal Stories of the Great African American Migration (film, 1994).
Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns
Burnett, Charles. To Sleep With Anger (film, 1990)
Williams, Spencer. The Blood of Jesus (film, 1941)
Petty, Audrey. High-Rise Stories: Voices From Chicago Public Housing
Lee, Spike. Crooklyn (film, 1994)
Stahl, John. Imitation of Life (film, 1934)
Scarborough, William et al, Between the Great Migration and Growing Exodus: The Future of Black Chicago?
Tracy Vaughn-Manley is Assistant Professor of African American Studies. Her current research examines the specific ways in which the distinctive aspects that define the Black Aesthetic quilting tradition—the assertion of individual and collective agency; the narrative aspects; and the social and historical significance of quilts—make them and the process of quilting a convenient trope for many Black women writers, specifically novelists Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Terri McMillian; poets Nikki Giovanni and Lucille Clifton: and playwright Lynn Nottage. These authors consider the connections between quilts, gender, race, culture and identity as well as the intersections between literature, history, and material culture to explore the interiority of Black life—specifically the lives of Black American women. By employing the quilt and the tradition of quilt-making as metaphors for history, community, and legacy, these authors are situating the production and preservation of American folk culture squarely in the hands of Black women.
Miriam J. Petty is Associate Professor of Radio/TV/Film and Performance Studies. She writes and teaches about race, stardom, performance, reception, adaptation, and genre and is especially interested in the history of African American representation in Hollywood film. Her first book, Stealing the Show: African American Performers and Audiences in 1930s Hollywood explores the complex relationships between black audiences and black performers in the classical Hollywood era. Petty is also an avid producer of public programs: her recent projects include the 2012 symposium “Madea’s Big Scholarly Roundtable: Perspectives on the Media of Tyler Perry” at Northwestern; the 2014 retrospective “Mama and Papa Lala: 30 Years of Billops-Hatch Films” at Emory University; and the 2015-2016 film series “Seeds of Disunion: Classics of African American Stereotypy” at the Black Cinema House of Chicago. She is currently at work on a book manuscript examining media mogul Tyler Perry’s productions and his African American audiences’ nostalgic investments in such cultural forms as folktales, music, literature, and religious practice.
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