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on their shoulders I stand

I will be quick with this blog entry. On March 3, my grandmother, Lillie Mae Earvin, native of Belzoni, Mississippi, passed away. She was 87 years old. She is pictured on the right in the first photograph below. Beside her is an unknown woman, likely someone she met in her years of working as a domestic and caterer. To their left is my grandfather, the late Richard Earvin. He passed away in 2003 shortly before I left New York City for graduate school.

 

I often say I am able to do all of the things I get to do because I am a descendant of such strong people who figure into my current research on the racial and spatial politics of black migrants to South Florida from the nineteenth century to the present day.

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The Mississippi-born Lillie Mae Earvin, right,  was also known as “Bahama Mama” owing to the conch dishes she learned to prepare and sell at  South Florida festivals and  the Coconut Grove Farmers Market between the late 1970s and early 1990s.
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My grandmother, Lillie, was part Native American.

This study relies partly on oral histories. Last July, I held a tribute to the many  who shared stories of their migration to South Florida.  I did this because I knew some of them would not be here at the completion of my research. My grandmother is the third “human subject” to pass since I launched this project in 2014. It is a good thing to honor people while they are with you, I often tell myself.

My grandmother and my grandfather were former sharecroppers who “followed the crops” to Homestead in the 1950s. Unlike many African Americans who headed to northern urban areas – using the work of Victoria Wolcott and Carla Kaplan, my graduate students and I will discuss ones who moved to Detroit and New York today –  some of my Mississippi relatives moved to a rural area farther south. In fact, they moved to a state that does not easily fit into “the South” – Florida, eventually settling in the Coconut Grove section of Miami. As Isabel Wilkerson, riffing of Richard Wright, has written, they looked for the “warmth of other suns.”

I am trying to find meaning in their search for better lives here and that of others, including my paternal Bahamian relatives who settled in Miami in the opening decades of the twentieth century.

Along the way, I will be grateful for the risks they took, the tears they shed and the hopes they had. They inspire me and my work. Rest in peace, Grandma.

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