For most of the 20th century, blacks were buying one-way tickets out of the Jim Crow South in hopes of a better life. Nearly 6 million African-Americans followed the railroads to places like Detroit and Chicago, never dreaming that their children and grandchildren would someday lead a return migration, chasing the American dream back down the Mississippi and straight across the Mason-Dixon line.
Last year, when James Seal left his job as an insulator at shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries in Pascagoula, Miss., he said goodbye to his Blue Cross Blue Shield plan. Since then, he and his wife have paid cash for medical care or visited the hospital emergency room. But mostly, they’ve gritted their teeth through health challenges. It is a strategy that has worked for the most part.
Hot-button issues like racial profiling, police stop-and-frisk practices, and social justice have joined global causes like immigration reform, women’s rights, and issues affecting other minority communities, suggesting a blurring of the lines between the ideological underpinnings of today’s youth-led civil rights movement and that of the 1960s. Call it Civil Rights 2.0.
Three girls watch as the tall, well-dressed man strides down the cracked sidewalk, across the playground, through the weeds, past the swings, and toward a merry-go-round that might have once been blue but is now a tired gray. They seem wary here in the shadows of the housing projects and petrochemical plants that make up their world. Life on the west side of Port Arthur, Texas, is hard; street smarts come early by necessity.
Donna Gainey grew up here in the picturesque fishing village of Bayou La Batre, Ala., – went to school only a mile away, married a local boy, and made the tiny City Hall on Wintzell Avenue her home away from home. This is all she’s known. All she’s ever wanted to know. For 32 years, she’s watched mayors and council members come and go, but still she remains.