To Leave or Not to Leave? The “Boomerang Migration” of Lillian B. Horace (1880–1965)
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To Leave or Not to Leave? The “Boomerang Migration” of Lillian B. Horace (1880–1965) Karen Kossie-­Chernyshev “I don’t like this old cheap pen. I want a genuine good fountain pen. I like a heavier pen than this.”1 Lillian Bertha Jones Horace, a gifted Texas educator whose greatest desire was to write, paused to comment on her desire for a writing instrument that honored her appreciation for the printed word. Her rich private reflections, in tandem with her overlooked creative and nonfiction works—even those she planned to write, such as her autobiography and a book on “Negro public education over [a] period of 40 years”2—now provide scholars of African American women’s history with a fresh opportunity to reexamine migration and its impact on black southern women and their relationships. Horace’s life and work also shed light on our understanding of the effects of the patterns of migration on black southern women educators of the Jim Crow era. Horace’s extraordinary 175-­page diary is the catalyst for this study. It is a singular document, dashed down hastily, much of it retrospective, Lillian Horace as a young woman 106 Karen Kossie-­Chernyshev none of it meant for publication as it stood; it reads more like notes for a work to be written later. It covers the years from about 1942 to 1950, an eight-­ year period during most of which Horace claimed two places of residence: 1109 East Humbolt Street, Fort Worth, Texas, the address of the home she bought with her teacher’s pay; and 1717 Benson Avenue , Evanston, Illinois, the parish address of the historic Second Baptist Church, where she began writing the diary. The migration pattern reflected in Horace’s diary affirms and broadens the history of black southern migration. As historians have pointed out, black southern migration during the Great Migration was more than a collective centrifugal experience of flight from deadly epicenters of racial violence, poverty, and discrimination. Rather than an exodus from dearth or stasis to prosperity and positive change, Lillian Bertha Jones Horace’s many migrations to, from, or within southern, western, and eastern spaces—including Texas, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Illinois, and New York—attest that migration might encompass a complex range of motivations, destinations, durations, and outcomes. The trajectory of Horace’s personal life in Chicago reveals a unique migration pattern shared by black southern female educators for whom teaching was a “calling” and the US South, a mission field. Thus, Horace’s missionminded migration pattern, which began and ended in Texas, suggests the need to examine what I call “boomerang migration.” The word “boomerang” as a noun denotes planned aggression: a weapon or missile constructed specifically to return to the user. As a verb it suggests an unexpected consequence: the backfiring of an action on the person who undertook it. For the purposes of my study, “boomerang migration” combines elements of both definitions and connotes the movement pattern demonstrated by mission-­ minded black southerners, particularly of the Jim Crow period, who departed from and returned to the US South over the course of their lives, chiefly for the benefit of the communities they served. Lillian Horace’s example and the examples of other black southern boomerang migrants, from Mary McCleod Bethune to Coretta Scott King, contrast with the migrations of southern-­ born blacks who left the South for better opportunities and who worked out their sense of social or political obligation in other regions, including the Northeast.This other group of migrants included native southerners Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell, and Nannie Helen Burroughs, and, in the far west, selected descendants of the T. McCants Stewart family, whose social efforts unfolded in Port- 107 To Leave or Not to Leave? land, San Francisco, and Hawaii.3 Additionally, the black southern educators , the vanguard of the boomerang migrants, were distinguished from southern peers who changed professions when they migrated north, where most black southern teachers were denied the opportunity to teach for fear that their “Southern accent . . . would be damaging to the children.”4 Recent scholarship on black southern women, education, and migration during the Jim Crow era inform the background of Horace’s story.5 Scholarship elucidating the particular case of black southern women has been particularly instructive.6 Also key to this study on Horace are works treating black migration, black life, and activism in the many urban and rural places Horace frequented over the course of her life.7 Diaries, personal...