The 20th Century's "Great Migration" of African Americans Becomes Art

Talk by UB Humanities Institute Fellow is third in 2012 Scholars at Hallwalls series

Release Date: November 6, 2012 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- John Jennings, associate professor of visual studies at the University at Buffalo and a 2012 UB Humanities Institute Fellow, will discuss his graphic novel on the Great Migration at 4 p.m. on Nov. 9 at Hallwalls, 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo.

Jennings' talk, "Conjuring the Past: An Ethno-Gothic Graphic Narrative of the Great Migration," is the third in the 2012 Scholars at Hallwalls series of lectures in the humanities presented by the UB Humanities Institute and Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center.

The Great Migration is a term given to the movement of 6 million African Americans from the rural South to the Northeast, Midwest and West between 1910 and 1970.

Jennings' project is one that investigates one of its consequences: the Policy Era in 1930s Chicago. "Policy," a common name for the numbers racket, refers to the illegal lottery game that migrated from the South during the Great Migration, and was played for decades, largely in poor U.S. neighborhoods. The term "policy," reflects the game's similarity to cheap insurance, both being a gamble on the future.

Jennings' novel is a historical fiction narrative set in Chicago's Bronzeville, the South Side community designated in the early decades of the 20th century as the only space in the city where African Americans could reside. It became a thriving black metropolis, home to a broad range of entrepreneurs, musicians, novelists, playwrights and poets from Louis Armstrong and Richard Wright to Muddy Waters and Lorraine Hansberry, and was the home of a thriving numbers racket.

His narrative is multimodal in nature and uses the comic medium to tell a story that blends pulp-noir detective story with supernatural thriller. Jennings employs Gothic tropes with a critical race perspective, a style he refers to the style as "Ethno Gothic."

The function of his book, Jennings says, is to discover, unpack and exorcise American historical revenants that continue to haunt and undermine equality in our society.

His project also will feature an exhibition of artwork generated from his research for the book and, if possible, a symposium examining the importance of the Policy Era in American history.

Jennings is a designer, curator, illustrator, cartoonist and award-winning graphic novelist, whose work involves disciplines such as American studies, African American studies, design history, media study, sociology, literature and women and gender studies.

Scholars at Hallwalls series events are free and open to the public, and talks are presented in terms accessible to the general public. Complimentary hors d'oeuvres are served and the audience is encouraged to engage the speaker in discussion of the issue at hand.

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