The Great Migration--the exodus of more than six million blacks from
their southern homes hoping for better lives in the North--is a defining
event of post-emancipation African-American life and a central feature
of twentieth-century black literature. Lawrence Rodgers explores the historical
and literary significance of this event and in the process identifies
the Great Migration novel as a literary form that intertwines geography
Drawing on a wide range of major literary voices, including Richard Wright,
Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison, as well as lesser-known writers such
as William Attaway (Blood on the Forge) and Dorothy West (The Living Is
Easy), Rodgers conducts a kind of literary archaeology of the Great Migration.
He mines the writers' biographical connections to migration and teases
apart the ways in which individual novels relate to one another, to the
historical situation of black America, and to African-American literature
as a whole.
In reading migration novels in relation to African-American literary
texts such as slave narratives, folk tales, and urban fiction, Rodgers
affirms the southern folk roots of African-American culture and argues
for a need to stem the erosion of southern memory.