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Fly Away

, 432 pages

66 halftones, 9 maps

June 2010



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Fly Away

The Great African American Cultural Migrations

The Great Migration—the mass exodus of blacks from the rural South to the urban North and West in the twentieth century—shaped American culture and life in ways still evident today. In Fly Away, Peter M. Rutkoff and William B. Scott trace the ideas that inspired African Americans to abandon the South for freedom and opportunity elsewhere.

Black southerners fled the Low Country of South Carolina, the mines and mills of Birmingham, Alabama, the farms of the Mississippi Delta, and the urban wards of Houston, Texas, for new opportunities in New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Los Angeles. They took with them the South’s rich traditions of religion, language, music, and art, recreating and preserving their southern identity in the churches, newspapers, jazz clubs, and neighborhoods of America’s largest cities. Rutkoff and Scott’s sweeping study explores the development and adaptation of African American culture, from its West African roots to its profound and lasting impact on mainstream America.

Broad in scope and original in its interpretation, Fly Away illuminates the origins, development, and transformation of national culture during an important chapter in twentieth-century American history.

Peter M. Rutkoff is a professor of American studies at Kenyon College. William B. Scott is professor emeritus of history at Kenyon College. They are the coauthors of New York Modern: The Arts and the City.

"A grand work... An engaging and entertaining volume that ought to be of interest to anyone with a curiosity about African American migration and African American cultural contributions to American culture."

"As Rutkoff and Scott take the reader to Chicago’s Bud Billiken Day or Houston’s Juneteenth, August Wilson’s Pittsburgh, or Walter Mosley’s Los Angeles, 'the flashes of the West African spirit that black rural southerners brought north' are rendered visible."

"Adds considerably to our understanding of this national exodus... The authors, who teach history at Kenyon College, argue that the black migrants preserved many of their West African roots and customs in the move north, just as they had during the Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas. These authors stress the cultural freedom afforded by holding on to a vision of Africa as the homeland. In preserving their African roots, the black migrants could take pride in where they came from and in who they were in their new circumstances."

" Fly Away represents a useful contribution."

" Fly Away is intended for an academic audience and its footnotes display the depth of the research. However, the authors' engaging style also should appeal to the general reader with an interest in African-American cultural history."

"[A] well-written, thought-provoking book. The authors have created a broad-ranging study that is well worth reading. It provides many new ways of thinking about and interpreting the impact of African American migration both on the migrants and the nation."

"Rutkoff and Scott's book is likely to become a staple in undergraduate courses in African American and American Studies."

"Illuminating and impressive cultural history... Highly recommended."

"An exceptionally well documented portrait of African American migration. Peter Rutkoff and William Scott's Fly Away is a deeply moving account of black families and their journey out of the American South."

"Rutkoff and Scott have worked together for years, arming themselves with insight into the flow and deep nature of black tradition. This book is the quintessence of their expertise—clear, brilliant, thrilling. It is destined to become a classic in the field. Unreservedly recommended."

" Fly Away offers a fresh angle of vision on twentieth-century American culture. Peter Rutkoff and William Scott explain how African American urban cultures emerged from a sequence of migrations, eventually influencing the everyday lives of a wide variety of Americans. This is a book infused with imagination, inspiration, and a deep commitment to uncovering new meanings for our past."

"This wide-ranging, epic study begins by showing how distinctive African American cultures, reflecting different degrees of African influence, developed in the South Carolina Low Country, the Mississippi Delta, Birmingham, and Houston. The authors then show how the transmission of these cultures to northern cities during the Great Migrations of the twentieth century led to new African American cultural adaptations in the areas of dance, music, recreation, clothing, and spirituality. The end results dramatically transformed African Americans, the urban landscape, and modern America at large."

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