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


There are a few questions at the beginning of Morgan Jerkins‘ journey: She wants to uncover her families roots, trace their movements and uncover why they left the places they left and stayed at the places they stayed. In her introduction, she asserts: “Because ruptures in cultural memory characterized much of my life and the lives of others in my community, I decided to consider these gaps an opportunity, rather than an impasse. I was weary with my conception of self, of the diaspora, as one of loss.”

Taking the Great Migration – the movement of ca. six million Black Americans from the South to the North between 1916 and 1970 – as a starting point and looking at her paternal as well as maternal family, Jerkins travels to the Lowcountry (Georgia and South Carolina), Louisiana, Oklahoma, and LA. She remains always open to what she might find states at one point: “Reconsideration is what history is all about; history doesn’t care what you feel. I had to be OK with being uncomfortable with whatever I would find out about my family.”

In each place, she meets different people and does research not only into her particular family history but also the broader contexts she tries to understand. Doing so Jerkins paints a nuanced and detailed picture which shows a broadness of Black experiences but also highlights the interconnectedness. She shows the brittleness of race categories too – without denying their every day and structural effects. Jerkins writes about the Gullah and their specific culture, language, and current problems of on-going expulsion, she interrogates Creole identity/ identities, asks about the relationships between Black and Indigenous people, and looks at the tense history of LA.

There is so much in this book, like also her explorations of Black people’s different relationships to water and swimming or an understanding of voodoo and other spiritual practices. At times I would have wanted to get more on some of the themes and topics – but that’s may be the beauty of this book. As it is a start for Jerkins life-long exploration, it is also a starting point for (some) readers to dive deeper into some of the brought up topics.