| PBS presents Goin' to Chicago, the story of America's Great Migrations premiering February 8th 10.00 p.m. EST (Check local listings) |
"Goin' to Chicago glows with insight and humor-its a beaut!"
One of the most significant, yet least-known, social phenomena in ournation's past, Black America's 'Great Migrations' have remained amissing page in American history. Now, for the first time on publictelevision, the story of the migrations, comparable in significance tothe Depression and one of the defining moments in America history, istold in the award-winning documentary Goin' to Chicago. The film willbe presented on Thursday, February 8th at 10 p.m. on PBS (check locallistings).
More than 5 million African Americans journeyed from the cottonfieldsand Jim Crow justice of the rural South to the promise of a better lifein the industrial cities of the North and West. This powerful andentertaining film follows a group of former migrants returning today totheir Mississippi hometown for a reunion. The story is told throughcompelling personal experiences-woven together with never-before-seenarchival film and photographs, and a soundtrack loaded with blues, R &B, and gospel--much of it recorded specifically for the film.
Although the 'Great Migrations' have influenced virtually every part ofAmerican political, economic, and cultural life-writer and psychologistRobert Coles has described the movement as, "One of the great unsungsagas of human history."
Why did people leave? Where did they go? What happened to them? Goin'to Chicago will tell their story for the first time on broadcasttelevision.
America's Great Migrations
In the first half of the 20th century, millions of black Americansjourneyed from the rural South in two great waves to the cities of theNorth and West in search of work, opportunity, freedom and a betterlife. It was the largest internal migration in United Stateshistory-the largest peacetime migration of any people in the world, andit dramatically transformed American politics, and popular culture.Yet, 30 years later few people know it even occurred-or understand howit affects Americans today.
This vast social movement reshaped the South, America's cities, and manyaspects of contemporary American culture. Goin' to Chicago focuses onwhat is perhaps the most dramatic phase of the Migrations-the movementthat took some 3 million black Mississippians North to Chicago's Southand West Sides.
For many Southern blacks, Chicago was the city of hope.
People journeyed North in two great waves. The first wave, between 1915and 1925, pushed people to escape racial hostility, the boll weevil'sdevastation of the cotton crop, and indentured servitude through theinfamous farming system of sharecropping. At the same time they werepulled by the lure of paying jobs and a better life in the city. Thesecond wave, between 1940 and 1970, is the focus of Goin' to Chicago.People left for many of the same reasons as their earlier relatives,with the addition of the mechanization of agriculturallabor-particularly the mechanical cotton-picker-first tested in theMississippi Delta in the early 1940s, footage of which is shown in thefilm.
Typically, people in this second wave moved to join family members.They took the straightest routes North-from the Carolinas and Georgia toBaltimore, Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston, from Alabama toDetroit, from Texas west to California, and from Mississippi and theArkansas Delta up Highway 61 and the Illinois Central railroad toChicago. Southern blacks read the Chicago Defender newspaper, theylistened to radio broadcasts by Earl Hines and others from Chicago'sRegal Theater. As Bluesman Muddy Waters put it, "Goin' to Chicago waslike goin' out of the world."The film addresses many contemporary social phenomena: the creation ofthe African American inner-city ghettos in cities across America(Harlem, Watts, and East St. Louis); the growth and mobility of a blackmiddle class; the mechanization of agriculture and the disappearingfamily farm; the employment of black industrial workers in the 1940s;the struggles over the integration of housing in the 1950s; the rapiddeterioration of the cities in the 1960s, and "reverse migration" backto the South in the 1980s and '90s, among others.
The film's soundtrack is part oral history, part musical history. TheGreat Migrations had a profound impact on American - and consequentlyworld popular music. Blues musicians from the South, like Muddy Waters,Howlin' Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson, moved North and electrifiedtheir country blues creating the basis for much contemporary R&B, rock,and pop music. Goin' to Chicago includes historic recordings by MuddyWaters, Jimmy Rogers and others, but it also includes live musicrecorded in community venues specifically for the film by contemporarymusicians, such as Delta Blues great James "Son" Thomas (now deceased)and Chicago harp player Billy Branch and his band. In fact, thesoundtrack of the film is like a voyage through black musical history -beginning with the field hollers that sounded the origins of the blues,and passing through R&B, gospel and jazz, to rap improvised by youngresidents of a Chicago housing project.
About the Filmmakers
The structure of Goin' to Chicago was shaped in the editing room bynoted filmmaker Sam Pollard. Pollard, born and raised in New YorkCity's Harlem has family in Mississippi and Alabama. He has previouslyserved as editor on many of Spike Lee's movies and produceddocumentaries in his own right, including segments of the reknowned Eyeson the Prize. Amy Carey who edited Julie Dash's groundbreakingDaughters of the Dust, cut the movie with Pollard.
Other notable achievements from the team that made this film include:Executive Producer Chiz Schultz was nominated for an Academy Award forBest Picture for A Soldier's Story. Veteran writer Lou Potter's recentcredits include: Paul Robeson, Here I Stand for PBS' American Masters,and Half Past Autumn-a new biography of Gordon Parks for HBO. Andproducer/director George King won the 1998 George Foster Peabody awardfor the civil rights documentary Will The Circle Be Unbroken?
The documentary is narrated by NPR personality and host of PBS'sAmerica's Kitchen, Vertamae Grosvenor.
UNDERWRITERS: The National Endowment for the Humanities was theprincipal funder. Additional funding from among others, NationalEndowment for the Arts, the state Humanities Councils of Arkansas,Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, and the Fulton County ArtsCouncil. (Complete list available on request)
PRODUCING COMPANY: George King & Associates
FISCAL SPONSORS: University of Mississippi, Southern Regional Council
ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS: Ronald Bailey, William Ferris
Goin' to Chicago has already proved popular with audiences; winning aCine Golden Eagle and awards at film festivals.