In early 2004 I moved from Tokyo to Georgia.
In 1977, walking around the town in Georgia, I felt deep, inexplicable nostalgia in the Deep South. While resting under a big oak, chatting with people in black neighborhoods, in almost any situation, I would catch myself in amazement: This is really my first time here.
And in 2008, a most gratifying thing occurred for this country. Hearing serious black voices on the radio, savoring Obama’s victory, my tears welled up. An African-American had become president.
Of course social and economic conditions for African-Americans have changed since 1977, as has greatly widened disparity between rich and poor.
Where African-Americans used to perform menial jobs, they have since lost those jobs to recent immigrants, millions and millions coming from Mexico and other countries.
The U.S. has built far more jails than it has built factories or schools, and for poor African-Americans the persistent reality of the former may eclipse dreams of prosperity promised by the latter.
Taking photos and interacting with African Americans in 1977, I felt I shared a physical energy, and I enjoyed the warmth and glow of faces I saw along the streets, more so than now. I felt more a sense of hope and possibility, comparing then and now.
A photo document can tell what kind of world we once lived in. Looking at these photos after another ten years, I am sure one would see an even larger story, a broader truth. I hope these “Soul South” images may carry such precious significance forward to people in the future. I believe they will.