College professor George Bailey is a child of the Great Migration, that period from the early 1900s through the 1970s that saw scores of Southern blacks relocate to northern cities like Chicago.
His new book, Haunted Exiles: Back Up on the End, recalls some of those experiences. The book is fictional, though some characters and situations were borrowed from Bailey’s life. The Great Migration is just one aspect of the book, which consists of a series of short stories across a range of genres.
A college instructor and mentor to local youth, Bailey has been promoting the book since its early 2011 release. Some of the stories have appeared in other published works of Bailey’s, along with a couple taken from excerpts of a yet-to-be-published novel.
It took about four years to complete Haunted Exiles, he said.
His busy schedule contributed in part to that lengthy gestation. He teaches American literature at Columbia College, from which he is a 1974 graduate. An Oak Park resident, Bailey, 65, is a musician, playing guitar in a jazz band, and he’s also a painter. Mentoring is another passion, something he’s done on his own for years, but most recently joining a group of Oak Park men looking to help at-risk African-American boys.
Bailey has written one other book and said he enjoys fiction writing. The 18 stories in Haunted Exiles deal with isolation and dislocation caused by the diaspora from the South to the North. They represent a range of genres, from science fiction to the American Western.
Bailey has a personal connection with the black diaspora. His parents relocated from the South to Chicago in the 1950s when Bailey was about 8 years old. Other family members would follow.
“We drove up in a Pontiac Starchief; that I can remember,” Bailey said.
He grew up on Chicago’s North Side, living in the Old Town neighborhood, part of the Lincoln Park community, “before it was fashionable to live there,” he said. Bailey remembers Cabrini Green being built and the exodus of white residents as blacks moved into the area.
He moved to Oak Park in 1989, with his wife, Linda, and raised two sons.
Recalling the mentors in his life, Bailey became motivated to help youth himself. He and a group of male friends in Oak Park got together a few years ago and decided to reach out specifically to troubled boys there.
“Mentoring is about helping someone through a period of their life, and while you’re there, you really have to be there,” he said.