My parents thought we were just passing through for a few years—biding our time until we moved even further south to Atlanta—the Black metropolis. Meanwhile, I fell in love with my new home in the vast Durham forests. I spent hours in our shaded backyard, playing games around trees and trying to teach myself to start fires with broken branches. At school, Renise, Kaleshia, Yanumbe, Dennis, and I played kickball, four square, and handgames in our densely wooded park, across the street from our playground and an open grassy field where my teacher had us watch and sketch the clouds. But however I felt about this new place, these new smells, and new people, I remember how different it felt to visit “back home.”
What Great-grandma and her daughters built on many acres in the very white rural Midwest was a space of refuge, of collective sovereignty that she had not been able to keep in West Point, Memphis, or even Detroit, where her house was ultimately claimed by the state for a highway. That single row of modular homes bordering the woods was a world in itself, a place where my sisters, cousins, and I could pass hours running from house to house, eating bags full of cherries, and engineering a wagon to the biggest bike for our own roller coaster up and down the rolling grass hills. This place, more sacred to me than any church, was emblematic of the possibilities of Black geographies.
In the words of gender and geography scholar Katherine McKittrick and the late urban planning scholar Clyde Woods, Black geographies are sites that can trouble “dominant modes of geographic thought” predicated on colonialism, slavery, and marginalization, and “allow us to consider alternative ways of imagining the world.” The situatedness of Blackness as outside of dominant geographic thought precisely creates the possibilities of “our understanding of spatial liberation and other emancipatory strategies [that] can perhaps move us away from territoriality, the normative practice of staking claim to place.”1
Psychologically, spatial liberation for Great-grandma, in the end, had to do with leaving the South and painful memories that are lost to me. But spatially, it had everything to do with cocreating peace, safety, and love for generations of her family, even in the tiniest corner of a county that elected Donald Trump president exactly two decades after her death in 1996.
As we settled into Durham, a city bordering Stagville—one of the largest plantations in North Carolina in the colonial and antebellum eras—we found the spaces of refuge, of safety and love in the areas of the city carved out by people who were descendants of those enslaved at Stagville. We found sanctuary on Durham’s Southside, as members of St. Joseph’s AME Church, one of the anchoring institutions of Hayti, a Black community proudly named for the first independent Black republic in the Western Hemisphere. Like Great-grandma’s neighborhood in Detroit, Hayti was partially destroyed by a highway in 1970. But as I eventually learned for myself in more than thirty years as a southerner, and even longer as a US-ian—spatial liberation isn’t capital, territory, regionalism, or even ownership. It’s a praxis of spatial relations predicated on collective care that is, in the words of historian J. T. Roane, “capable of sustaining human relations and the biosphere.” Black geographies gives us the chance to revisit our relationships to space and place beyond the ways that we are conditioned—to possession, to exclusion, to fungibility, to profit. We are invited instead to consider the limitations of our conditioning and to experiment with imagining worlds different from this one—spaces without borders, reciprocal land relations, homes beyond property and valuation.2
This issue is a blur of motion through Black geographies of the global South. Together, we visit sites and mobilizations of Afro-diasporic peoples finding their way towards the praxes capable of sustaining life for themselves and all their relations. Priscilla McCutcheon and LaToya Eaves invite us to their rural Black geographies to demonstrate how the King James Version of the Bible, despite its colonizing power, was integral to the emergence of Black conceptualizations of spatial liberation and placemaking in the US South. Darien Alexander Williams reviews the global Black geographic imaginaries posited by the Nation of Islam in its short-lived publication Muhammad Speaks, which circulated widely in the Black US South, enticing young people like my great-aunt Inez McMann to flow north to Detroit to experience the empowerment and pitfalls of Black collectivism and nationalism. Javier D. Wallace reveals a whole world of southern HBCU basketball predicated on Black migration from Panama, and the promises and devastations that ensue from these stories of immigration, community building, and strivings for sports fame and fortune.