The promised land.
Last February, millions of black people who saw Black Panther were convinced they’d found it in Wakanda, the fictional, futuristic African country that had never been conquered or colonized. We searched cultural clothing shops for African apparel, bought Kendrick Lamar’s soundtrack and enthusiastically greeted each other with “Wakanda Forever,” fantasizing about returning to a place we’ve never known.
We can only imagine how our ancestors, captured and coerced into slavery centuries ago, longed for the Wakanda that they did know — the west and central regions of Africa beyond the doors of no return.
For African-American slaves emancipated during the Civil War, the very idea of Wakanda might have been as elusive as El Dorado, the golden city of legends the Europeans were seeking as they first enslaved Africans and brought them to the New World.
But with faith like a mustard seed, these newly free men, women and children set out for promised lands north and west, taking with them nothing but a newfound agency and independence as they paved the way for those of us who would follow.
The Black Migrations theme of USA TODAY’s 2019 Black History Month Special Edition, Exodus, on newsstand through Feb. 18, unpacks a lot of assumptions about the origin and place of African Americans in this country. As we approach the 400th anniversary of the African Arrival in Virginia in August, historians of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History show us how the incident is but a small part of the larger slavery picture. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s multimedia exhibit In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience positions the arrival near the beginning of 13 historic migrations that trace black resilience and power rather than victimhood.
Also in this issue, explore little-known civil rights milestones like the Red Summer of 1919 and the Sir George Williams affair in Canada. It’s been 50 years since Woodstock, so we find out how Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone fared at that now-iconic event.
Travel with us as we find out what it’s like to live abroad, and sample life in Botswana and in Jamaica, where Treasure Beach gave me my own Wakanda dreams.
And try your hand at the first Black History Month Special Edition crossword puzzle, created by Jan Buckner Walker, one of only a handful of black puzzlemakers in the country. (Answers are here, but no peeking!)
Find select content from the edition throughout February at our Civil Rights in America website, civilrights.usatoday.com.
Special thanks this year goes to former Washington Post reporter Hamil R. Harris, who helped us distribute more than 18,000 copies of the special edition to museums, schools, libraries and churches across the country.
Editor of the Black History Month 2019 special edition, Exodus, available for purchase here.