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The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Theme: SegregationTheme: MigrationsTheme: ProtestTheme: CommunityTheme: Overcome?
Theme: Migrations

Alice Walker
Alice Walker
Leaving, 1960
- Alice Walker, "Roselily," short story, ca. 1967 (PDF)

To the last painting in The Migration of the Negro series, Jacob Lawrence affixed the caption: "And the migrants kept coming." Alice Walker's story "Roselily" indicates that they did, right through the 1960s. But by then they were a different people, heading for a different North.

Alice Walker (1944-) was the eighth child born to sharecropper parents in Eatonton, Georgia. She attended Spelman College in Atlanta on a disability scholarship: a shot from a BB gun left her blind in the right eye from the age of eight until the problem was corrected six years later. She left Spelman after two years to attend Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she was mentored by the poet Muriel Rukeyser, who helped her get her early work published. After graduation from Sarah Lawrence in 1965, she did civil rights work in Mississippi. She has published several volumes of poetry but is best known as a fiction writer, especially in light of the multi-faceted success of The Color Purple. In addition to being a poet, novelist, and short story writer, she is a critic, having helped to bring the work of Zora Neale Hurston into the contemporary literary canon and establish black feminist literary theory.

"Roselily" reflects Walker's feminism. It records the thoughts of a young black single mother during her wedding on the porch of her home in Panther Burn, Mississippi. As the preacher intones the words of the ceremony, she senses her groom's resentment toward Mississippi—indeed, toward the South in general—and the subservience he feels it breeds in black people. She worries about her children and the new life they and she will build with her husband, a member of the Nation of Islam, in Chicago. Like earlier migrants, she hopes to find freedom in the North. But will she find it in her marriage? (3 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. How does Walker portray the South in "Roselily"?
  2. How has the region changed from the 1930s and 40s as described by Walter Cavers and Willie Harrell? (#6: Leaving But Staying)
  3. How does Walker describe the North?
  4. How has it changed?
  5. How is Roselily different from earlier migrants? How is she similar?
  6. What does she expect to find in Chicago? Compare her expectations with those of earlier migrants.
  7. Compare the way Walker uses cinder imagery with the way Richard Wright uses it in "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow."

Framing Questions
  •  What migrations did African Americans undertake in the twentieth century?
  •  What were the effects of these migrations?

"Roselily" 3 pages
Supplemental Sites
Alice Walker, overview and resources from the New Georgia Encyclopedia

Alice Walker, overview and annotated bibliography, from NOW with Bill Moyers (PBS)

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

Image: Alice Walker, photograph, n.d. Creator unidentified. Permission pending.

1. Leaving, 1920   2. Writing for Help   3. The Chicago Riots   4. Promised Land?
  5. The Blues   6. Old Timers, Newcomers   7. Leaving But Staying
8. New Consciousness   9. New Art   10. Painting the Migration   11. Leaving, 1960

TOOLBOX: The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Segregation | Migrations | Protest | Community | Overcome?

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