This film is a documentary about a group of people who live in Chicago and who return to the South every year. The subjects in the film still have close ties to Granville, Mississippi.
These stories are told by people who migrated to Chicago as well as those who decided to remain in Mississippi. This film’s purpose is to allow its subjects a chance to reflect on their childhood in the South as well as inform its viewers of factors which led to their leaving home for the North.
People like Cliff Durvell, Clory Bryant, Dr. McKinley Martin, Mildred Heming, Viethel Willis, Vernon Jarrett, to name a few, were young teens during the 1940’s. They told their stories of how radio and newspaper publications inspired them to leave the South. Newspapers like the Chicago Defender were circulated among African-American communities in Granville. The people spoke of the progress made by other family members who had moved North in previous years. In some cases, when one family member went North and became settled, they would send for another member. Eventually, the entire family would be together in the North.
John “Son” Thomas, a blues singer, sang about the routes which were traveled to get to the North. He made songs like “Highway 61” that depicts in lyrics a popular road which many Southern Blacks took to get to Chicago.
Jarret and Willis told of the rapid segregation which took place in the Northern neighborhoods. They spoke of the practice of White people moving out whenever a Black family would move in. They also remembered violent attacks endured by Blacks who would not leave neighborhoods already populated by Whites.
Eddie Maten described Chicago as a “workplace hub” of railroads, hotel services, and industries. Others, like Koko Taylor, remembered holding a house cleaning position with dignity and respect, and making more money in one day than she made in one week in the South.
Some Southerners like Mae B. Carter and Cliff Durvell evaluated their lives much like these other people did, yet felt they could do better in Mississippi than in Chicago. Both families farmed by sharecropping and both had little to no chance of education. They described the school year as short and unpleasant because of having to walk for miles to go to school. They both agreed that working hard in Mississippi was far more beneficial than moving to Chicago. Like Mildred Heming they felt that the “city” just was not for everyone.
This documentary was novel in the sense that, unlike others which I reviewed, these people still had close ties to the places from which they had come. Every year they traveled by bus back to Mississippi where they were reunited with old friends, neighbors, and family members still residing in the South.