The Warmth of Other Suns ~ Isabelle Wilkerson

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Been reading this wonderful book about the great migration.  I can’t say enough about it. Though I am not finished yet, there are some things I would love to share about it.

I’ve heard of the Great Migration here and there.  But never thought about it in terms of the gravity and significance of detail.

Here are some interesting, Did You Knows:

During an 8 year period, 8 million people of African descent moved North and Westward from the South. Can you imagine 8 million people per year?  Most without any assurance of what would await them.  It created such a labor crisis in Southern states, that the in some cases, white police officers would literally rip the bus or train tickets out of potential travelers hands so they couldn’t leave.  Many had to sneak out as if it were the Underground Railroad, though it was during the 1900’s.  People were lynched for plotting to leave.   Many packed themselves up in wooden boxes and had themselves shipped like cargo on trains. In spite of starting from the bottom, they were the least to use welfare and public assistance than any Caucasian immigrants coming from Europe.

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, (and in many cases afterwards) if you were traveling by train from the South to the North or vice verse, a person of color would have to ride the Jim Crow train car in Southern states.  It was an intricate process.  For instance, if you were traveling from Boston to South Carolina, in Boston you would board an integrated train.  You could sit where you wanted with whom you wanted.  When you got to DC however, the train would stop and the conductors would disconnect the integrated cars and attach Jim Crow segregated cars.  The passengers with melanin would have to get off their previous train car and then enter the Jim Crow cars before they crossed into Virginia. The opposite would happen if the train was coming from Virginia to Boston or New York.  Train arrives in DC, the Jim Crow cars would be disconnected and the integrated cars attached.

The two worlds (North and South) were so vastly different, that when Southern migrants came North, it was impossible to hide.  The differences were so magnified compared to a second generation “Northerner” that there was for many blacks, a reticence and resistance of the incoming black population.  They were reminded of where they came from and what they quickly tried to forget and separate from.  There were programs and classes to teach Southerners ‘how to live in the North.’  For instance, the were told not to wear head scarfs in public.  Don’t hang out your windows yelling.  Don’t walk barefoot.  It made you stand out looking beneath the race.  The migrants didn’t know any better.  Their way of living and resources was all they had.

This book interweaves these stories around 3 individuals, Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster.  But most all of the historical figures we know of, from James Baldwin, Duke Ellington, Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell, they all are the fruits of The Great Migration. New York, Newark, (Newark was heavily populated because many Blacks heard of New York, intended to go to New York, but when the train stopped and said, “You’ve arrived in Newark,” many thought to themselves, Newark… I guess that’s it!  They thought it was New York.

It literally is the ULTIMATE American story.  I highly suggest reading this book.  The Great Migration is something that every American child should learn about in school.  It’s possibly the most Unsung story of American history.  I’ve couldn’t begin to cover the intricate and painstaking details the author put forth in giving this gift of historic significance.

For more details about the author and information on the numerous awards and acclimation this work has received, click on the link.

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