New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow is calling for black Americans to launch a ‘reverse Great Migration’ and move back to the South to create racial majorities in the states their ancestors fled two centuries ago.
Blow presents his provocative proposal in his new book ‘The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto’, which hit bookstores last week.
In the original Great Migration, some six million black Americans fled from oppression in the Jim Crow-era South over the course of several decades in the 20th century in search of a better life.
Looking back through a modern lens, Blow asserts that ‘the initial benefits of the Great Migration have given way, in many ways, to a stinging failure’, citing the ‘perpetual oppression’ wrought by housing discrimination, police brutality, white nationalism and other forces.
‘Black people fled the horrors of the racist South for so-called liberal cities of the North and West, trading the devil they knew for the devil they didn’t, only to come to the painful realization that the devil is the devil,’ he writes.
If they took a page from their ancestors and returned to the South in large numbers, Blow contends that black Americans could take on the ‘devil’ directly by creating a ‘contiguous band of Black power that would upend America’s political calculus and exponentially increase Black political influence’.
‘The point here is not to impose a new racial hierarchy, but to remove an existing one,’ he writes.
‘After centuries of waiting for white majorities to overturn white supremacy, it seems to me that it has fallen to Black people to do it themselves.’
New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow (pictured) is calling for black Americans to launch a ‘reverse Great Migration’ and move back to the South to create a racial majorities in the states their ancestors fled two centuries ago
In the original Great Migration, some six million black Americans fled from oppression in the Jim Crow-era South over the course of several decades in the 20th century in search of a better life. Pictured: Black families lined the streets of New York to celebrate the homecoming of the 369th Army infantry unit in 1919 amid the Great Migration
In recent interviews Blow has said he was inspired to write ‘The Devil You Know’ after Black Lives Matter protests exploded around the US last summer following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25.
Blow presents his provocative proposal in his new book ‘The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto’, which hit bookstores last week
In his book Blow downplays the power of those protests, saying they were fueled by ‘cabin fever racial consciousness’ during the coronavirus pandemic and arguing that they will not yield significant results in the long term.
He contends that the best way to actually make change is by leveraging the current political system and centralizing black power at the state level.
‘The mission begins with the states,’ he writes, ‘which are the true centers of power in this country, and as such control the lion’s share of the issues that bedevil Black lives: criminal justice, judicial processes, education, health care, economic opportunity and assistance.
‘In a society and system in which white supremacy is ubiquitous and inveterate, Black people need fierce advocates to help restore the balance in the first instance.’
Blow summarized his proposal from the book into a column for the New York Times earlier this month, describing how he had already followed his own advice and moved from New York to Atlanta.
He criticizes Northern cities like his former hometown, saying that black communities there were ‘abandoned by the Black elite and spurned by white progressives’ and have become ‘permanent refugee camps’.
‘White people in destination cities are committed to the same control over the Black body to which the law has been dedicated in this country from the beginning, a strategy that the modern North has adapted from the historical South,’ he writes.
Blow (pictured) reduced his proposal from the book into a column for the New York Times earlier this month, describing how he had already followed his own advice and moved from New York to Atlanta
Meanwhile, Blow says the South has made more progress, becoming ‘a country within a country . . . a new Africa in America’.
He stresses that the South is already home to 1,000 of the 1,200 majority-black cities and towns in the United States, and calls to build upon those majorities at the state level.
Blow also notes that without the Great Migration in the 20th century, many states would already have black majorities in power.
‘If the Great Migration hadn’t taken place, Black people could control or form the majority influence for as many as ninety Electoral College votes, more than California and New York State combined,’ he writes.
‘And if they and other groups voted the same way that they do now, they could have ensured that almost every president in the last fifty years was a Democrat.’
Blow argues that the Great Migration ‘cleaved the Black community culturally’, between those who stayed and those who left, and says now is the time ‘to reunite and reconcile these two factions’ and ‘remember that our trauma history is not our total history’.
He points to last year’s presidential election in Georgia – where Stacey Abrams helped turn the state blue by mobilizing voter registration for some 800,000 black residents – as ‘proof of concept’ for his proposal.
Several reviewers criticized how the proposal is more of a stretched-out idea than a road map, lacking details about how a reverse Great Migration could actually be achieved.
In a review for the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada criticized Blow’s proposal as ‘reflecting a simplified interpretation of history’ and questioned whether the ‘course-correction’ Blow imagines would actually come to fruition.
In his book Blow describes his proposal as ‘grand’ and ‘revolutionary’ – an apparent acknowledgement of its practical limitations.
But his hope is that readers will join him in asking this question: ‘What could and should Black people do to acquire and maintain the economic and political power — for the many, not just for the few — that the Great Migration failed to secure?’