Two Way Migrations: Caribbean Migrants and Sea Islanders
Lara Putnam. Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and Politics of Race in the Jazz Age, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013.
In Radical Moves, Putnam explores the migration and experiences of British Caribbean migrants from 1850s to the 1940s. She argues, “the black internationalism and anti-colonial movement that would shake the twentieth century were rooted in the experiences of ordinary men and women- not only on the cosmopolitan streets of Harlem and Paris but also in the banana ports and dance halls of the tropical circum-Caribbean” (230). The focus of this work is on “how low culture and high politics, racist laws and radical religions, dock-workers and diplomats interacted” (230). She demonstrates black internationalism through the lives and experiences of the Caribbean migrants.
Radical Moves consists of six chapters. The first chapter discusses “the places that came to form part of the circum-Caribbean migratory sphere and the people who made it so (21). She examines why thousands migrated from the British Caribbean. Migration did not occur only one way, some left for good while others returned which “remade” the geographical landscape during the early twentieth century. The second chapter emphasizes popular culture in relation to religion. Putnam states, “this is a world in which common people took seriously the responsibility to listen for messages from God and to preach themselves is that was what dreams, visions, or intellect guided them to do (49). The circum-Caribbean world was, she claims a place in which religion was constantly created. She argues that this creation was noticeable through the intersectionality of race, class, and gender.
Chapter three explores the anti-immigration laws passed in the 1920s throughout the Americas such as the Immigration act of 1924, which restricted immigration, establishing quotas based on nationality. The fourth chapter looks at the role of the black press. The literacy rates among Caribbean migrants were high, which contributed to a black supranational black public sphere in places such as the United States, Europe, Costa Rica, and Panama. The fifth chapter examines the role of music throughout the circum-Caribbean. Similar to politics and print culture, black internationalism included music and dance. Under the genres of jazz, calypso, mento, rumba, and son, music as well as dance “generated and spread by people of varied ages and stations, young working-class men and women most of all” (4). The six chapter looks at the return of numerous Caribbean migrants to their respective homelands.
The topic of migration also relates to the Sea Islands, specifically South Carolina. The island was desirable because of the location along the coast as well as the vast amount of land that was available. The Gullah and Geechee people only owned approximately 20% of the land, the remaining land was owned by absentee landlords who gave developers free and open access to the land. Soon, well-developed resorts, golf courses, and suburban developments popped up all over the island. Prior to these developments, the Gullah and Geechee people had free access to hunt and fish throughout Hilton Head Island. The developers restricted their access with fences and gates. As a result of this property development, property values increased tremendously as did taxes. For a people that were poor when they were forced to North America, the islands’ new economy forced the islanders to seek out means to sustain themselves. Many turned to hourly labor, out-migration, and sometimes both.
Out-migration peaked in the 1960s, when outsiders found the islands desirable thus forcing many more Gullah and Geechee people out of their homes and into the North. Many historians have traced their African origins from the Rice Coast or Windward Coast to legitimize their unique language, culture, folklore, and religion; however, it has been in the fictitious work of filmmaker and author Julie Dash that their migratory patterns have been traced. Her film and novel, Daughters of the Dust, highlights the Northern cities in which the Gullah and Geechee people migrated. They travelled to places like New York City, Philadelphia, and Canada. Historians have briefly discussed these migratory landscapes, tracing these patterns back to the early 20th century.
Similar to the Caribbean migrants in Radical Moves, the Gullah and Geechee people also migrated back home. During the latter part of the 20th century, the Gullah and Geechee people moved back onto the Sea Islands with the hope of (re)capturing their heritage to pass along through the generations. This migration back to the islands is also an effort to save a culture that is in danger of dying out. The problem is that younger generations find that they prefer life on the mainland where education, employment, and better housing opportunities are abundant. In addition, they are not carrying and passing along their heritage to their children.