Wandering in strange lands A daughter of the Great Migration reclaims her roots

Morgan Jerkins

Book - 2020

An acclaimed cultural critic presents the story of her journey to understand her northern and southern roots, the Great Migration, and the displacement of black people across America.

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New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers [2020]
Main Author
Morgan Jerkins (author)
First edition
Physical Description
289 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 267-278) and index.
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Journalist and essayist Jerkins (This Will Be My Undoing, 2018) journeys to discover her ancestral lineage. As she travels south, she learns the complexity of her genetic heritage, dating back 300 years, and peels back the layers of myths in Black culture. Readers are engulfed in the details of the Gullah Geechee nation, the depth of Louisianan Creoles, as well as the struggle of Freedman to be accepted in their respective Native American tribes. Jerkins writes with vulnerability and ease, and readers will root for her discoveries. Her curiosity is both admirable and exciting as we witness the intersectionality of her maternal and paternal makeup. There is an underlying spiritual tone to this memoir; she even feels spiritually guided by her ancestors during her travels and research. She helps ground the experience of disenfranchised Black people throughout U.S. history with an intensity that this both eye-opening and educational. Jerkins' quest to connect with her ancestors will undoubtedly urge readers to research their own. A thrilling, emotional, and engaging ride that almost commands the reader to turn the page, Wandering in Strange Lands is required reading, accurately widening the lens of American history. WOMEN IN FOCUS

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Essayist Jerkins (This Will Be My Undoing) sets her family history against the backdrop of the Great Migration--the period from 1910 to 1970 when six million blacks left the South for other parts of the country--in this forthright and informative account. Contrasting her father's frequent visits to his childhood home in Fayetteville, N.C., with her mother's lack of knowledge about her family roots, Jerkins sets out to fill in the "blank spaces and missing pieces" of her identity. Visiting Georgia and South Carolina, she documents the systematic erasure of Gullah Geechee culture and reveals her maternal great-grandfather's escape from two different lynch mobs. Her paternal great-grandfather's roots in Louisiana Creole country send Jerkins to Natchitoches Parish, where she wrestles with her preconceptions about skin color and relates the story of the Metoyer family, once the wealthiest "free people of color" in America. In Oklahoma, she investigates links between African-Americans and Native Americans; in L.A., she juxtaposes the myth of California in the black community with the reality of white flight and gang violence. Jerkins's careful research and revelatory conversations with historians, activists, and genealogists result in a disturbing yet ultimately empowering chronicle of the African-American experience. Readers will be moved by this brave and inquisitive book. Agent: Monica Odom, Liza Dawson Assoc. (May)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Jerkins's quest to find out more about her roots and her cultural heritage takes her on a journey. She started with a desire to know a little bit more about her two families--her mother's family, the one she lived with, and the family of her father, an older man who started a second family with Morgan's mother. Neither parent could offer a detailed lineage, and family narratives were few and far between. So Jerkins gathered what information she could and started to research, first with records as she could locate them, and then by traveling to the places and people who could shine light on her own family narratives. This audiobook is read by the author, and she does an excellent job with it. Her pacing and voice are easy to listen to, and she draws readers into her narrative as any good storyteller would. VERDICT Her story, so well told, is a reminder that each of us bears a rich and complex past, and we should all try to capture our stories as Jerkins does. Recommended for all public libraries.--Gretchen Pruett, New Braunfels P.L., TX

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A family's story reflects African Americans' struggle for survival. Driven by a need to understand her own identity, cultural critic Jerkins mounted an investigation into her family's tangled history, recounting in this candid memoir the surprising discoveries that emerged from her emotional journey. Like many African Americans, her ancestors fled the South--and oppression from the Ku Klux Klan and police--some settling in the Northeast, others in California, disrupting their ties to their cultural and spiritual heritage. "No one spoke about the past--the goal was to move forward and never look back," she writes." This silence, though, frustrated Jerkins, leading to a search "to excavate the connective tissue that complicates but unites us as a people, and to piece together the story of how I came to be by going back and looking beyond myself." Traveling to Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Los Angeles, she traced her lineage, seeking answers to questions that had bothered her throughout her life: Why, for example, was she taught to be afraid of water? Why did her family believe in conjuring, spells, and hoodoo? And, critical to her sense of self, why was she so light skinned, a trait that raised others' curiosity, as if a child with lighter skin than her parents "was an aberration in the natural order of things." Everything she learned underscored the power of white supremacy in the U.S. She found out that although the Jerkins family grew up near water, it was not necessarily a conduit to freedom but, more ominously, a place where blacks were drowned. On the lush resort island of Hilton Head, she realized that "beautiful landscapes masked black carnage." From a historian, she was dismayed to learn the prevalence of black slave owners: "In 1830, in twenty-four states…there were 3,775 black owners of 12,760 slaves." Although her search sometimes proved unsettling, in the end, Jerkins was able to "tease out the interwoven threads of who I am as a black woman." A revelatory exploration of the meaning of blackness. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.