The subtitle of this book is “A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots.” In this reclaiming, the author finds many surprises. The Great Migration occurred from 1916 to 1970, a time when six million black people migrated from the rural south to the mid-western, western, and northern cities of the United States. They were looking for better opportunities for their families, and escaping the Jim Crow life.
In this process, several things happened. The migrants became, over time, disconnected from their roots, their history and their culture. Many lost their cultural identity.
The author seeks to find her history and her cultural heritage. She travels from New Jersey to Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma and California. Initially, she relied on her mother’s oral history. Her research introduced her to relatives, historians, and people who never left the South and those who returned to the south in a reverse migration.
The author also discovers that she’s not solely a black person living in 21st century America. On her father’s side she is part of the Gullah Geechee people from the lowlands of South Carolina and Georgia. She also journeys to Louisiana and discovers she is part Creole.
Her trip to Oklahoma confirms she is part Cherokee. She also discovers some of her ancestors were freed people who owned plantations and slaves. At first, this revelation is very difficult for her to accept.
As Jerkins tells stories of her ethnicity, she also tells the history of black people who migrated. Many of them discovered California was no different than the south. They discovered California also had systemic racism and prejudice, that the state didn’t welcome them either. Housing was restricted and unequal; schools were not open to everyone; employment was difficult.
Today, however, many black people are returning to the South. Employment is better. Housing is affordable and it is less expensive than California or New York.
This book is an interesting history of the black culture of the 20th century. Jenkins mainly focuses on the oppression of the community that still exists today. That being said, I wish the author had mentioned many of the gains black people have made and their contributions to their culture, and to America at large. They have many opportunities today that even her parents did not have. I didn’t find “Wandering in Strange Lands” as objective and balanced as I had hoped it would be.