African-Americans are returning to the South in record numbers, reshaping a region millions of blacks abandoned during the Great Migration. Reporter Vanessa McCray and photographer Jetta Fraser spent a week driving through Georgia and Mississippi and visiting former Toledoans.
During Black History Month, The Blade tells their stories.
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Sunday, Feb. 5: Gail Rayford-Ambeau
Gail Rayford-Ambeau was born a Toledoan, despite the Mississippi blood thick in her veins and the trace of magnolia in her voice.
Her parents left southern oppression for northern opportunities in 1957, during a black exodus that emptied segregated states and filled Midwestern industrial cities.
Hilda and Bennie Rayford’s youngest and only Toledo-born daughter graduated in 1982 from then-predominantly white Rogers High School.
She earned a degree from her parents’ historically black alma mater in Mississippi and later followed them back to the family farmland at the edge of the Delta.
Ms. Rayford-Ambeau, now 52, called the move a culture shock. Her mom, 85, just called it coming home. FULL STORY
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Monday: Rev. Floyd Rose
VALDOSTA, Ga. — The Rev. Floyd Rose preaches from the pulpit of a southern Georgia church whose sloped wood-paneled ceiling resembles the upside-down hull of a slave ship.
Beneath that beautiful but cruel reminder, his 50-member congregation sang “The Black National Anthem” to begin a recent service.
Serenity Christian Church, which the Mr. Rose founded seven years ago in his hometown of Valdosta, Ga., doesn’t rival the size of Family Baptist Church, the Toledo church he grew from a handful of parishioners to packed pews of 400.
But in Valdosta, his phone still rings with requests for help, and the reputation he earned during his nearly 40 years in Toledo as a firebrand pastor and civil rights leader continues to bring accolades and condemnation. FULL STORY
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Tuesday: Anne Brodie
DACULA, Ga. — Gable-roofed homes of ombre brick flank both sides of Anne Brodie’s street in suburban Atlanta.
The Dacula, Ga., neighborhood 36 miles northeast of the state capital popped up a decade ago as metro Atlanta’s population boomed. From 2000 to 2010, the region grew by 24 percent to about 5.3 million residents, driven largely by African-American migration to the area nicknamed Black Mecca.
Gwinnett County led the growth spurt. Thousands of new residents poured in every year, including Ms. Brodie, who left Toledo in 1999 for Lawrenceville, Ga., the county seat, and moved last year to nearby Dacula.
“Everything just looked so different than it does in Toledo. Everything is newer and there was a lot of building, and it was just an attractive place. And, frankly, when I went around to businesses I saw more black people in positions than I did in Toledo,” said Ms. Brodie, 73. FULL STORY
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Wednesday: George Armstrong
JACKSON, Miss. — The passage of years has a peculiar way of drawing the past closer, so that by the time George Armstrong turned 80 his proximity to slavery no longer seemed so far away or long ago.
He grew up with a tale, told by one generation to the next, of his great-grandfather and brother.
Time’s other trick, of blurring the edges of memory, hasn’t softened the harshness of his heritage.
“There’s a story in my family about him and his brother, and I don’t know which one it was. They were sold from their mother as slaves, and she came out and took a piece of bread out of her pocket and gave them a piece of bread and said, ‘Be good boys,’ ” Mr. Armstrong said. “As a kid, it seemed like sort of a ways, but as I look at it, that was my mother’s grandfather.” FULL STORY
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Thursday: Birdel Jackson
ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Cotton sent Birdel Jackson to Toledo.
Specifically: The acres of Arkansas cotton grown on land purchased after the Civil War by his freed great-great grandfather and passed on to descendants.
When Mr. Jackson studied civil engineering at the University of Toledo, it was cotton — and his grandparent’s generosity — that covered the cost.
He arrived on campus in 1963 with a steamer trunk full of suits and ties, clothes he’d later swap for Chuck Taylors, Levi’s, and a UT sweatshirt. He was the only black student in his four-man dorm room.
Long before he came to Toledo, generations of Jacksons had worked to give him opportunities. FULL STORY
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ATLANTA — Younger, educated blacks whose parents and grandparents migrated north are reversing that well-traveled route and moving south.
They come for opportunity and stay for familiarity.
It’s often a job that draws Rust Belt expats to southern boomtowns. But the diversity, culture, and family ties soon make their new city feel like home.
“I have done things that I probably would not have done in Toledo,” said Caroline Brackette, who moved to metro Atlanta eight years ago.
Ohio posted net-migration losses among both college-educated blacks and whites from 2010 to 2014, the most recent data available from the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University. FULL STORY
A pack of twentysomethings launched Toledo Young Black Professionals one year ago after realizing they had a lot more in common than their location.
“We were here, unhappy, and we felt that something was needed for the young professionals to do socially and be able to network,” said Floyd Showers, 25, who grew up in Youngstown and came to Toledo for college.
Other local networking groups skewed to older workers or weren’t diverse. So, they started their own. FULL STORY