Whose dust is rising? Historical and literary narratives of the northern migration of African American women
Amos, Sharon L. Richardson
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This study of the migration of working class African American women from the southern to the northern United States examines literary and oral history narratives. The literary narratives or novels, Your Blues Ain't Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell; River, Cross My Heart by Breena Clarke; Jazz by Toni Morrison and The Good Negress by AJ Verdelle, not usually labeled as migration novels, capture the participation of fictional African American women in the migrant streams. Through the investigation of submerged migration themes, my work draws parallels between the novels and the historical narratives in several ways, gender distinct travel methods, the preparation of girls and young women for migration, and women's identity and agency. My work uses the oral narratives of three working class African American women who migrated from the South to Buffalo, New York in the 1940s and 1950s to explore their education, housing, employment, decisions to migrate, and their negotiation of the urban landscapes. The analysis of language in these narratives uses the framework of feminist practices of oral history. Incorporated within the body are interrogations of the theories of migration, push-pull theory, and the role of labor agents. Sources include personal narratives, social and literary criticism, and examples of expressive culture. This work complements the studies of African American female historians that situate gender and race as essential categories in historical migration accounts.