The story of a group of African-Americans who take a homecoming trip from Chicago to Greenville, MS serves as a vehicle to trace the story of the mass migration of African-Americans from the rural south to Chicago between 1915 and 1960. The migration story focuses on the racism, sharecropping, and unemployment that prompted migration from the south, and tells how African-Americans were able to build new lives in Chicago. It also shows the struggles of living in Chicago, including the racist restrictive-housing covenants, and the overcrowded housing projects; also includes the unemployment problem in Chicago after the closing of the stockyards and steel mills in the latter part of the 20th century. Interviewees include Vernon Jarrett and Koko Taylor. Vintage/newsreel footage includes clips of cotton picking, the Chicago stockyards, Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood, Chicago's Maxwell Street market, Joe Louis (the boxer), and Harold Washington.
The soundtrack is filled with great jazz and blues music.
00:00Copy video clip URL Black.
00:16Copy video clip URL Title card: The following production has been funded in part by The National Endowment for the Humanities and The National Endowment for the Arts.
00:23Copy video clip URL Intercut footage inside and outside of a bus traveling down the highway. A woman explains the people on board are from Greenville, Mississippi. Various sound bites of the travelers saying how happy they are to be heading home to Greenville. “I remember a time we couldn’t afford to ride on the bus, now we can charter a whole bus.” Another woman says, “There’s something great about going back from where you came. Whatever was instilled in you … you carry with you all your days.” Various b-roll, singing, Welcome to Mississippi street sign.
02:03Copy video clip URL Montage of life in Mississippi and Chicago cut to Muddy Water’s “My Home Is In the Delta”. Title sequence: “Goin’ To Chicago” A Film by George King.
03:22Copy video clip URL A narrator explains that The Greenville Travel Club is made up of longtime Chicago residents returning to Greenville, Mississippi, for a reunion of family and childhood friends. Year before they left the oppression of the old Jim Crow South for opportunities in the North and West. There pursuit changed this country. This is their story.
04:02Copy video clip URL Interview with Mae Bertha Carter. She notes she was born in Sunflower County, Mississippi. She’s 69 and has 13 children. Koko Taylor says her family were sharecroppers. Farmers. Carter explains that sharecroppers worked for the landowners. You work half of your time for yourself and half for someone else. Dr. McKinley Martin explains that the sharecropper had to pay for the seeds, fertilizer, fuel, feed, yet the sharecropper gathered all crops and the land owner took half of it. “It was a form of slavery. Clory Bryant adds it’s a form of slavery; you worked for your board and keep. Martin adds that after all was said and done his father would make only $300 a year. Carter notes that when she thinks about it she gets sad and mad, “but we had no other choice.”
05:57Copy video clip URL Mildred Fleming says we didn’t have enough to eat. We’d eat turnip from the turnip patch. She talks about the extreme poverty in which she lived. The last year of her school her mom got sick and she had to do the cooking when she came home from school. She would be starving but couldn’t eat any of the food she was cooking while she was cooking because she had to leave some for the rest of the family.
07:17Copy video clip URL B-roll of farmers working the fields. Cater says she never had the school. There wasn’t school for us at that time. Martin adds that the school system operated for 7-8 months. We had split sessions. The school year revolved around the farmer’s schedule. The kids were all labor on the far. Cliff adds that he could only go to school when it was raining and work on the farm had to stop. Kids started work in the fields as soon as they were old enough to pick cotton. By eight, nine years old I was a regular field hand.
08:49Copy video clip URL Fleming says a tall nine year old could be chopping wood by that age. B-roll of cotton pickers. Taylor describes how cotton pickers carried a long sack strapped around their neck. Some could pick 200, 300 pounds a day. “That didn’t apply to me. I was never good in the field. But I was there because it’s what I had to do.”
09:34Copy video clip URL Bernice Thomas remembers how hard it was on “your back, your hands. Me and my brother used to cry all the time.” They’d pray to God to get us out. “It was hard, but He made a way.”
10:06Copy video clip URL Church singers: New Mount Pilgrim Mission Baptist Church in Chicago. Intercut b-roll of the bus coming into Mississippi. Family and friends greet the travelers. One of the passengers narrates who’s who in the footage of the club members. She notes today is registration for the big family reunion. Tomorrow is church, get together. Saturday is the picnic and the big dance. “Everything will be going on.”
12:43Copy video clip URL A narrator says that between 1915 and 1965 black migrants left the South in two great waves due to economics and social oppression.
13:07Copy video clip URL A mock Movietone-style news reel documents the migration from the Mississippi delta. Machines replace field hand workers.
14:03Copy video clip URL Hughley M. Jones talks about how machines started taking over farm work. Carter says she didn’t stay on the farm much longer once the machines took over. She says her dream was for all her thirteen kids to get an education, and move from the farm.
15:04Copy video clip URL James Thomas says his grandmother raised him. I started out farming, but couldn’t make money at it. He decided to leave and try living in town. His grandmother predicted he’d be eating out of garbage cans.
15:48Copy video clip URL An old man sings the blues. Taylor says she left home a age 18 with her husband. Took a bus to Chicago. We had no money. We had one box of Ritz crackers to slip between us. Another woman says she came to Chicago by train. As soon as they entered Illinois, the conductor said to her she could stop saying “Yes, Sir” and just say yes.
17:53Copy video clip URL John Henry Davis says he hitchhiked all the way to Chicago. Another woman says she came in her brother’s car. He worked all day Friday, then drove to Arkansas to pick up his sister. We sold our furniture and rented a trailer. He was trying to get back to work for Monday.
18:59Copy video clip URL B-roll nightlife in Chicago. “I felt I reached the promise land.” Others share their first impression. “The bright lights! This must be Heaven, or that place they talk about, Paris. One or the other.” Viethel Wills says “I was expecting Chicago to be like Las Vegas, the way I’d heard about it.”
19:50Copy video clip URL Mock Movietone-style news reel talking about field hands coming to Chicago. Unita Blackwell says if someone you knew got a way and made it to Chicago, maybe there was hope for you. Fleming adds that her family left one at a time. After each kid graduated school, they headed out. Geri Oliver says her aunt and uncle was in Chicago, and they housed her until she could get a job. Carter notes all her family and friends that went to Chicago. Montage of letters from the past people who made it to Chicago talking about how great it is. Opportunity. Money. Segregation.
22:30Copy video clip URL Bryant remembers people who’d moved to Chicago coming back for visits wearing new clothes, money in their pockets, driving cars, calling long distance. Mr. Jarrett says Chicago was a Heaven you fantasized about. Radio helped us dream. You heard music coming from Chicago shows: the blues. Chicago was a place black people had more freedom. We also read the Chicago Defender. It helped us maintain hope.
24:25Copy video clip URL A narrator says most people new to Chicago moved in with family already here. The congregation of the New Mount Pilgrim Mission Baptist Church moved as one big group to Chicago. B-roll of a minister addressing the congregation. We have suffered, he says, shortage of bread, meat. Suffering was always a way of life for us. We suffered to get this far.
25:30Copy video clip URL Archival footage of the Ku Klux Klan. Voice over of a letter from a Southern black man writing to someone in Illinois asking to be removed from “the lynch man’s noose and the torch man’s fire.”
26:03Copy video clip URL John Wiley tells a story of being at the Army bus depot and a white man approaching him at the back of the bus demanding his seat. He refused him. Tensions rose. The bus driver told the white man to sit at the front of the bus. Wiley had a knife on him and was prepared to use it. He said later he told his wife he wanted to leave the South before something really bad happened. The next day he determined to resign from the Army and move to Chicago. “I’ve been here ever since.”
26:50Copy video clip URL B-roll of suburban homes. A group of men and women reflect on growing up in the neighborhood. They tell horror stories of living in the segregated south. One man says he’d eat in a restaurant and when he was finished the staff would break his plate. A woman says a a man she knew had tried to order hamburgers from a stand and was told to go to the back of the stand to order. In spite, the man ordered ten hamburgers and then when they were ready told the staff to eat them, and left.
28:07Copy video clip URL The narrator notes that travelers from the South took convenient north and west highway routes. Blacks from Georgia and North Carolina generally ended up in the Washington, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia areas. Those from Alabama went to Detroit. Migrants from Texas and Louisiana went to California. Mississippi folks preferred Chicago.
28:45Copy video clip URL Carter notes that she felt blacks could do better in Mississippi without an education then they could in Chicago. She didn’t want to go to a city and suffer the way she suffered in rural Mississippi. Fleming notes that she stayed in Chicago 6 years. “The city’s not for everyone. It was not for me. I came back to get married.” Another woman says she stayed in the South during the Civil Rights Movement to fight for freedom. A man says he did leave Mississippi because he wanted to stay with his family and take care of them.
30:01Copy video clip URL B-roll of black musicians at Artis’s Bar in Southside Chicago. A former Mississippian pays tribute to two other fellow Mississippians: Muddy Waters and Howl’n Wolf.
31:42Copy video clip URL Various workers at the United Steelworkers of America, Local 5544, Chicago, note that when blacks arrived in Chicago they could get jobs just about anywhere. Eddie Maten notes Chicago was a hub for work. Frank Lumpkin agrees. “At that time Chicago was the best place to find a job.” You couldn’t find that opportunity in places like Ohio. A man called Robinson said he chose Chicago over Buffalo or Detroit. It’s was a gangster town and I wanted to see what it looked like.
32:35Copy video clip URL Archival footage of factories and stock yard work. A man notes jobs in service industries and factories were prevalent. Opportunities for entrepreneurs too. A woman tells the story of coming from Mississippi to Chicago in the 1940s. I worked at Western Electric during the war and made more money there then I ever did in Jackson, Mississippi. Taylor says she got a job right away cleaning houses on the North Shore. I made five dollars day … “a long ways away from three dollars a week.” John Wiley notes that he worked at Sears Roebuck in the mail room from seven a.m. to three p.m. then work another eight hours at the post office. My wife would greet me at home. I’d eat and go to bed. I did that for twenty-five years, working two jobs.”
34:40Copy video clip URL Timuel Black says his father used to says expressions: One man would say, I have a job for you. And the other would reply, bring it to me and I’ll see if I want it. Another one was: if you can’t make it in Chicago, you can’t make it anywhere.
35:03Copy video clip URL Mock news reel news shows the 25th Bud Billiken parade in Bronzeville, South Chicago. It celebrates the founding of the Chicago Defender newspaper. Boxing champ Joe Louis makes an appearance as do the Fultz quadruplets.
35:57Copy video clip URL Zedrick Haden says Bronzeville was a symbolic name that described the Southside. A woman adds that anybody who’s anybody was on 47th Street: mayors, congressmen, professional people had offices here. Businesses, churches. The Chicago Defender was published in this neighborhood. These papers noted the black success stories white papers left out. A woman notes some residents never saw The Loop downtown because anything you ever needed was in Bronzeville. Bryant adds: “I’d never seen anything like this. It was fascinating.” Others note there was no feeling of oppression or loneliness.
38:00Copy video clip URL The narrator notes that other major cities were developing similar neighborhoods made up of black migrants: East St. Louis, North Philadelphia, Watts in Los Angeles, Paradise Valley in Detroit, and Harlem in New York.
38:15Copy video clip URL The Greenville Travel Club has chapters in fourteen cities. The members come together each year for this reunion. B-roll of the members, dressed up formal, enter the party.
40:09Copy video clip URL Voice over reads a letter of a new Chicago resident saying how difficult it is to find housing. The writer has rented a house and has 15 borders. Am man notes that a person in the real estate business, owned apartment dwellings, could become rich. A six-flat building could be turned into an 18-flat building. This was the rise of the kitchenette. A woman remembers that they slept and lived in one room. It was called a one-room kitchenette.
41:08Copy video clip URL Wiley notes that “everyone” was living in kitchenettes.
41:27Copy video clip URL The narrator notes that kitchenettes were infamous fire traps. Landlords nonetheless charged and received higher rents than spacious apartments in the all-white Gold Coast. But the start of World War Two changed things. Archival footage of black troops in World War Two. A man notes that after the war blacks had a re-envisioned idea of how the world should be. He notes when he joined the Army in 1943, the Southside had about 200,000 residents. When he returned the number had doubled. We needed to break out and find other places to live.
42:40Copy video clip URL Archival footage of a World War Two veteran, a black man, saying that he is trying to purchase a home in the area where he works, but cannot. Another man says he was told by the real estate agent “if I were to sell you a house in one of ‘those areas’ I would be out of business inside of thirty days.”
43:13Copy video clip URL Vernon Jarrett adds that during this time mortgage companies teamed with insurance companies and construction companies to prevent black people from getting a mortgage. Contracts had clauses prohibiting the sale of a house to anyone not of the caucasian race
44:03Copy video clip URL Archival footage of segregated public places and businesses. Wiley notes that Chicago was segregated worse than the South. When he first arrived in Chicago he thought he’d moved to someplace worse than the South. Viethel Wills remembers people saying to her, “we don’t rent to negroes.” She notes that once black people moved into white neighborhoods the whites moved out to the suburbs. Christine Houston notes that her dad was a pioneer. He was the first black to own his own scavenger business, his own produce business. He’d break them in and go on to something else. He married a woman who aspired to live in a nice neighborhood. They became the first black family to live in Park Manor.
45:50Copy video clip URL Jarrett says the first black person to move into a white neighborhood was called a Blackbuster. Ruth Wells remembers that white people were frightened of black families moving in with lots of black children. She says they would double the price of their house if they were selling it to a black person.
46:51Copy video clip URL The narrator notes blacks wanting to move out of the Southside ghetto had only one option: move further south. During the 1960s, the west side also began to expand. Archival footage of whites protesting against blacks moving into their neighborhoods.
47:37Copy video clip URL Archival news footage reports that in 1951 a black bus driver moved into a particular apartment building and immediate his place was attacked by a white mob. The riot quickly escalated to Martial Law. Wills recalls being at home in 1950 and rocks thrown through the windows of the house. She heard shot guns fired and assumed her family would be killed for moving into an all-white neighborhood. Another woman tells a similar story being intimidated by whites in the neighborhood. When she showed she would not be terrorized, they eased up. “It made me brave.”
50:17Copy video clip URL B-roll of church music performance at New Mount Pilgrim Mission Baptist church. The narrator notes that black migration into the city slowed down in the 1960s. An uneasey truce between black and white housing settled.
51:28Copy video clip URL B-roll rural Mississippi. Members of the travel club fish in a pond. A woman says it’s a way of keeping together, reconnecting with old friends.
52:50Copy video clip URL Simulated news reel about overcrowding housing in Chicago. Mayor Richard J Daley says that the housing project represents the future of a great city. The city has built large apartment buildings, The Robert Taylor buildings in the Southside and Cabrini Green in the near North, to house black families.
53:45Copy video clip URL Bryant says there was as shortage in housing because so many had migrated from the South. She says Cabrini Green was like a small town. “We used to go to bed at night and leave the front door open.” A man adds that the first people to move in to the Robert Taylor housing projects were young, racially mixed. School teachers, police, secretaries. A woman adds that after a while at Robert Taylor things changed. There were just too many people in there together. The narrator notes that public housing originally meant relief from over crowded, impoverished dwellings. The promise was short-lived. By the 1960s the buildings were essentially high rise warehouses for poor people. A man notes that one rule was once you reached a certain income, you had to move. Bryant adds that public housing was meant to be a bridge to get you over. No housing project should be a place for people to live until they die.
55:54Copy video clip URL B-roll of a blues band performing outside at the Maxwell Street Market. The narrator notes that during the 1960s 70s, the good-paying factory jobs that first brought migrants from the South began to vanish. Some of the jobs relocated to Southern states. A reporter speaks from Union Stock yards being torn down after 106 years.
57:20Copy video clip URL A man recaps that after the stock yards left, the steel mills left. 2,700 people lost jobs. A man notes he had about 30-years in the steel factory and was 52-years old. A man at age 52 will find it difficult to get another job. “I cried. I thought I was home free.” The narrator adds that between 1975 and 1990 more than half of Chicago’s manufacturing jobs disappeared. A montage shows disused buildings and factories.
59:00Copy video clip URL Oliver says fear created what you see on 47th street today. Montage of modern slums, trashed project homes. A young black kid says you don’t want to be over here. “It ain’t good.” Jean McLauren adds that she would advise people not to raise their kids in Robert Taylor. It’s one of the highest crime areas. You’ve got to be a hard person to live in Robert Taylor.
01:00:40Copy video clip URL When asked what it’s like in the American South, a little kid in Cabrini Green says you don’t have to worry about shootings or getting robbed. It’s like a vacation. Another kid says he just wants to get out of here and live his life. He can’t live his life here. There’s too much violence.
01:01:20Copy video clip URL A woman hangs student art work in a class room in the Robert Taylor homes. One young student says when she grows up she’s going to live in a big house, have one child, and I won’t live around drugs or alcohol or kidnappers or baby killers or rappers. Another classmate says, “you can’t stop them.” The student answers, yes I can, because when I grow up I am going to be the President.
01:01:56Copy video clip URL A man says he dreamed he “could be anything I wanted to be if I trained and prepared. I was fortunate. I had backing. Now we’re beginning to wonder about that dream.” The narrator says the saga of black migration continues. The American dream in the hay day of migration was freedom in the American North. For many the dream came true. For others the dream is deferred.
01:02:42Copy video clip URL A woman says Chicago has been good to her because she’s been able to make a decent living. She grew a successful flower business. “This has certainly been my promise land.” Bryant notes that after her children were grown she went back to school and graduated. She notes she worked in the professional world for 25 years. “That’s a long ways for a cotton picker.” Another woman says some of her dreams came true. A man says he went to University of Chicago. He says among black people he fulfilled the American dream, but among American society he is in the middle.
01:04:50Copy video clip URL B-roll of Chicago street scenes. A woman sings the blues about Chicago, her hometown. Vernon Jarrett says “Black people…have never had optimum circumstances anywhere in this country…[but in Chicago] the confluence of our numbers, and our history makes for the probability of victory.”
01:05:12Copy video clip URL Footage of the travel club loading their bus in Mississippi to return to Chicago. People hug and kiss friends and family. Everybody’s tired. The bus pulls away.
01:06:38Copy video clip URL Begin end credits.
01:09:45Copy video clip URL END