This painting, The Great Migration, illustrates the northward routes many blacks from the rural South took in the first part of the 20th century. Many of my maternal relatives left Georgia for large Northern cities.

Sometime between 1900 and 1924, a little girl from Chattahoochee County, Ga., left to become a housewife in the big city. She left as Frances Pinkard and wound up Frances Johnson.

The bulk of my mom’s side of the family is in southwest Georgia, but there were a few who were swept up in The Great Migration and headed north, like thousands of others of blacks from the rural South.

One of the first was Frances Pinkard, who was one of my great-grandfather’s older sisters.  I realized this when I stumbled across a death certificate for her.

The certificate was issued in Illinois in 1924. The name on the certificate was Frances Johnson. Her spouse’s name was Ben and her father was Ike Pinkard (confirming that this was the former Frances Pinkard). I haven’t been able to find any other document that places her in Chicago. The only other record I found for her was the 1880 U.S. Census, when she was six and still living with her parents, Ike and Narcis Pinkard, in Georgia.

She wasn’t the only one. I stumbled across another obituary, this time for a Will Pinkard, who died in Cleveland in 2004. His father, Ike, was one of my grandfather’s brothers. (You may recall quite a few Ike Pinkards have sprouted in my family tree).

“I do remember that we had cousins in Cleveland,” my mom recalled. “I can’t remember his name– it might’ve been Will– but he left Omaha when I was a little girl. He never did come back.”

My aunt, Leslie Pinkard Odom (1950-2000), had spent most of her adult life in Cleveland. But why Cleveland?

The way it worked, my mom explained, is that usually one person would head north, find success and then encourage others to go. When my aunt graduated from high school, that’s what she did.

“I wasn’t too particular about Cleveland,” my mom said. “Fortunately other opportunities opened up.”

Advertisements