Sounding it out


My Southern Revival series about the return of African-Americans to the South wrapped up last week. This is the culmination of about five weeks of work — from researching the reversal of the Great Migration to finding sources and pre-interviews and then driving to Georgia and Mississippi to spend time with each source in their homes. Once back in Ohio, I planned the graphics, obtained the demographic and academic background, pitched the project to editors as a series of stories, tracked down historic photographs, and developed a newsy second Sunday story about how younger, educated African-Americans are leading the exit out of Ohio to the detriment of Rust Belt cities such as Toledo.

The Blade has a page devoted to the project here, with links to all seven stories that ran over the course of six days in early February, plus video, portraits and historic photographs and — TA-DA — my first foray into  audio storytelling.

The audio was put together by The Blade’s new audio department, an effort spearheaded by a colleague who did all the heavy lifting on this. I’m really excited about the possibilities that come with telling stories through this medium. If you have about 4 minutes, listen to this excerpt of an interview with one of the primary sources as she talks about the adjustment of moving from  Ohio to Mississippi, where she played tuba in a marching band at an historically black college.

Southern Revival: Day 1

Today brings the first of six stories in the most extenstive project I’ve done while at The Blade. I’ve spent the last month researching, reporting, and writing about African Americans who are returning to the south in record numbers. The result is Southern Revival, a six-part series that began in today’s Sunday paper and concludes a week from today.

More than five million blacks left the South from 1910 to 1970 in search of better jobs and to escape brutal racism. But then, something strange happened: Some began to return home. By 2015, 58 percent of the nation’s African American population lived in the south — up from barely half in 1970.

My editors wanted a trend story for Black History Month, but nobody knew anyone who had actually left Toledo to return to the south. I spent a solid week checking with black fraternitites and sororities, University of Toledo alumni chapters in southern cities, and black churches. I spoke to local pastors, activists, school officials, coworkers, and even random people at a coffee shop.

The hustle paid off when I identified a half-dozen people with Toledo ties who were willing to tell me their stories. A photographer and I drove  13 hours to Valdosta, Ga., where we met the first of many fascinating people.

We ended our week-long trip in Tchula, Miss. There, at the edge of the Delta, we chatted for hours in the home of the family whose story kicks off the series.


Today: Hilda Rayford, the marching band majorette who moved to Toledo in 1957, and her Toledo-born daughter who followed her parents back to their rural Mississippi farmland.

Check out the story and the photo gallery, which includes historic and current photos of The Rayfords’ life up north and down south.