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As I approach the end of my book tour, I find myself returning to the process of writing South to America. I’ve been in the South, seen my people along the way, and retrod ground I walked while working on it. I’m also rereading books I had consulted. One, The South Today, is a 1965 collection of essays by Black and white Southerners edited by Willie Morris. They reflect on home: going home and changes to their homes, in light of the civil-rights movement.

One essay, “Why I Returned,” is by noted Harlem Renaissance writer Arna Bontemps. Like many identified as part of the Renaissance, Bontemps was a Southerner by birth. In the essay, he describes his family’s migration from Louisiana to California. And he puzzles a bit about his father and uncle, diametrically opposed in so many ways—his father was bourgeois and respectable; his uncle Buddy held fast to folk ways and a good time—but who shared a feeling that if it weren’t for the “trouble” of the South, they would both return “home.” He asks, “What was it that made the South, excusing what Buddy called the conditions, so appealing for them?”

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