A review by lillimoore
Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots by Morgan Jerkins


"No one spoke about the past—the goal was to move forward and never look back."

Morgan Jerkins, an up-and-coming young Black writer from New Jersey, didn't know the full extent of her family history. Like many Black Americans, she knew she had roots in the South and ancestors who were enslaved in this country, but she had never fully connected with those roots. Intrigued by social patterns that began with the slave trade and repeated in new ways during the Great Migration, she embarks on a nationwide journey to uncover not only her own family history but many of the untold stories of Black American history.

Jerkins ventures to Georgia and South Carolina to learn more about the Gullah-Geechee population that occupies the Lowlands of the South and has been consistently displaced and overlooked by local government agencies, before moving on to the Creole populations of Louisiana and their unique cultural history in that region. She then travels to Oklahoma to investigate the ties between Black people and Indigenous people on the Trail of Tears, an event during which many people of both races were forcibly removed from their own homelands and made to exist elsewhere. Her search for a more fully-fleshed out history of Black people in America finally concludes in Los Angeles, where many Black people relocated in hopes of new opportunities not previously available to them in other parts of the country, only to be consistently caught up in the police brutality that influenced the development of gangs initially meant to protect Black folks against corrupt law enforcement. She does all this through the lens of her own family and understanding her roots by coming to know who they were and are and what their journey has entailed.

This book definitely opened my eyes to new populations and stories in history that I did not know much about and for that I am grateful. However, I was hoping to learn more about the Great Migration itself. Not only that, but this book was for me difficult to follow, which is why this not-so-well-written review is probably reflecting that. It was very oddly structured and I think it could have been helped with another round or two of editing, or maybe some new eyes on it altogether. Maybe she could have co-written it with another Black author, I'm just not sure. The premise behind this book is really stellar, but the execution just didn't quite resonate with me. I found myself spacing out a lot while listening to it and wonder if I would have been better off physically reading it; maybe I would have better digested the information and it might have had more of an emotional impact on me, but I was left wanting.

I know the book was supposed to be a memoir and pertain directly to Morgan Jerkins' personal experience and her family, but for me this was lacking the depth—emotionally and factually—that could have taken it from passable to phenomenal. The information that was included was well-researched but awkwardly presented. I would have liked to learn more about Chicago and Detroit and other parts of the North. It just felt like pieces of the puzzle were missing. I hope to come back to this book in text sometime and see if I can maybe piece together a better review or even have a better reading experience, but for now, I'm just happy to be through with this book which felt like a task to me and hopefully on to some better material before the end of Black History Month!