TONY COX, host: I'm Tony Cox, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.
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First, for years generations of southern blacks moved to northern cities for a better chance to build a promising future. The conventional wisdom was there were more jobs and less racism. But, lately, blacks have been leaving northern states and embracing new opportunities down South.
According to the latest census, in the last decade, most of the cities in the U.S. with the largest black population growth were in southern states. This black flight, if you will, is the topic of the upcoming documentary, "A Place Called Home: The Great Migration of the 21st Century." It shares stories of people like Stephanie Tyson, the co-owner of the Sweet Potatoes Restaurant in Winston-Salem, who returned to North Carolina in 2000 after having lived in New York for several years. She noticed a difference in race relations right away.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "A PLACE CALLED HOME")
STEPHANIE TYSON: It was such a big difference between black and white here. That was one of the reasons why I needed to leave. And we've just come so much further than that now, here.
COX: That was Stephanie Tyson, co-owner of Sweet Potatoes Restaurant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She's featured in the upcoming documentary "A Place Called Home."
Joining us now to talk about the film and the phenomenon of reverse migration is the documentary's producer and director, Naimah Fuller. She joins us from Tampa, Florida. Naimah, welcome.
NAIMAH FULLER: Hi, Tony. It's nice to be here. Thanks for having me.
COX: Now, you were at work on this film, as I understand it, before the 2010 census data became available. So, when did you first notice this reverse migration in the people close to you?
FULLER: I noticed that there was something really going on when I moved to Atlanta from New York. We couldn't find anybody that was from Atlanta. No matter where you went, everybody was from somewhere else. And the more I researched, I realized that people were really coming to the South not just to Atlanta, but in many places in the South.
COX: Were you drawn to the South or were you pushed out of the North?
FULLER: I think people were more pulled and I was saying to myself, is we were pulled to the South because of the economic and career opportunities that I saw. And that most of the people who I've chronicled in the documentary made an assessment that there were more opportunities in places like Atlanta and Charlotte and Houston than there was in New York and in the industrial sectors of cities like Detroit and Chicago and Cleveland, and those cities. So definitely it was more of a pull factor.
COX: To that point, as a matter of fact, there were a lot of artists profiled in your documentary. One of the most prominent that you spoke with was Grammy-winning jazz musician Terence Blanchard, who left New York to buy a spacious home in New Orleans. Here's a clip of what he told you for the film.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "A PLACE CALLED HOME ")
TERENCE BLANCHARD: Right before I moved to New Orleans, I was going to buy property in New York and I remember, man, we looked all over the place. And spending about the same amount of money that I spent for this place, finding small two-bedroom apartments with no garage, the agent stopped me and he said, man, take your money to New Orleans. He said you're going to get a lot more for your money.
COX: That again was Terence Blanchard from the documentary "A Place Called Home." You know, during the original great migration of the early 1920s, Naimah, many people moved to the North in hopes of a better life and finding better jobs. But when they got there, it wasn't quite what they thought it was going to be and as ideal.
Now, in reverse, going from the North to the South, are you finding that it is as ideal as you thought it would be, or are there some surprises that you had not anticipated?
FULLER: I think it's ideal, and that's primarily an economic opportunity. Better homes, more slower paced, better quality of life. The challenge of coming from a place, say, for example, like, New York or Chicago, or even Los Angeles, where you have a lot of migrants coming, is a cultural challenge. Because it's different. You have the southern culture, which is totally different from an urban center like New York or Harlem or Chicago.
So I think, as - Dr. Phillip J. Bowman, who is a social psychologist out of University of Michigan, who brought his expertise to the project, he said that, in this particular era, African-Americans perhaps would be faced with an unprecedented requirement to adapt a 21st century global psychology.
So to adapt to a Bible Belt culture, to adapt to a global economy, to adapt to a southern culture, all of these are really unprecedented challenges that are converging at one time on people who have been really used to a completely different kind of cultural milieu. So this is part of the challenge of the 21st century.
COX: If you're just joining us, I'm Tony Cox. You're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
We are talking about the so-called reverse migration, the recent wave of black people moving from the North to the South. We're joined today by Naimah Fuller, director and producer of "Home: The Great Migration of the 21st Century."
Now, Naimah, as we prepared to talk with you, our program reached out to hear from some African-Americans who decided to relocate to the South. And for many of them, the city of Atlanta was their primary destination. That includes Dominique Reece(ph), who was originally from L.A., and Jason Woody(ph) from White Plains, New York.
JASON WOODY: I think that more than half the people in Atlanta are not from Atlanta. You have a bunch of people from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, D.C. that come out here for a better cost of living. And, you know, it makes for a nice little melting pot.
DOMINIQUE REECE: When I first came to Atlanta for a college tour, I immediately felt this sense of home, the sense of comfort and I loved that there was city, but there was some southern hospitality, the sense of comfort.
COX: That was Jason Woody and Dominique Reece talking about their decisions to move to Atlanta. Where are we in the migration? We talked about the census showing that over the last decade, the numbers of blacks in the major cities has grown exponentially in the South. Are we in the middle of it? Are we at the beginning of it? Are we near the end of it in your estimation?
FULLER: In my estimation, we're at the beginning of this migration. I mean, the migration really took off in 1996 in a big way. Atlanta being sort of the ground zero of it, right after the Olympic Games. And it's continued to really grow and grow. But we haven't seen the crest of this migration.
I mean, with the recession hitting the northern cities so hard, and especially the industrial sectors like Detroit and Pittsburgh and Chicago, you're going to see this migration continue to grow throughout, I would say, the 21st century, just as we saw it happen over a long course of time going north, over the 20th century.
So we are nowhere near seeing this migration cresting at this time. People are going to continue to come to the South. But let me just add that I thought it was important for me to really get involved and commit myself to this project because so often we really don't tell stories of history in the making. Those people who are part of the great migration going North didn't really know they were making history.
And so, I think it's important for people to have the information and the knowledge about what the implications and the impacts are of these migrations. And so if they make decisions of what cities to go to, I know that the great migration of the 21st century will totally be a tool that people will be able to use and be informed about what's going on in this great migration.
COX: You said that it was ideal what you found and what the others found when they moved either back South or moved South for the first time. But how were and how are people being received by those who never left the South?
FULLER: Well, I guess that depends on where you are in the South and whether you're in the rural South or if you're in the cities. But as Reverend C.T. Vivian said, because of the Civil Rights Movement having really prepared the South for the 21st century and really making a place, because everybody didn't leave the South to go to the North. There were those who stayed in the South and really created a place through the Civil Rights Movement.
And so, it's kind of like a culmination. The ground that was laid and those coming back and now so it's all working together. I mean, now you can see that in Atlanta, which is the second largest city of a black population in the United States now, which up until 2008 it was Chicago. So this is a huge migration and it's taken me quite some time to really give it the kind of authenticity in terms of producing this documentary that was needed.
And so, I'm looking forward to sharing this great migration and the stories about the migration with the rest of the world.
COX: Naimah Fuller is a producer and director of the upcoming documentary, "A Place Called Home: The Great Migration of the 21st Century," which will be available in August. She joined us from Tampa, Florida. Naimah, thank you.
FULLER: Thank you, Tony.
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