Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Great Migration

I'd wanted to read The Warmth of Other Suns for years, from when I first heard about it. I knew little about the movement of African Americans from the South to the North other than that it occurred.

I hadn't realized the time frame of the migration — that it lasted from World War well into the 1960s. And I was unprepared for the calmly recited horrors of the Jim Crow South that drove people North and West.

The three people author Isabel Wilkerson chooses to follow — chooses after conducting more than 1,200 interviews — talked with her over days, weeks and years. They shared every detail of the fearful, stunted lives they left behind and the hardscrabble lives they found when they arrived.  We take the train with Ida Mae and her family as they head to Chicago and with George as he escapes to New York. We ride along with Pershing later known as Robert as he drives across the country fighting sleep because few motels accepted black guests.

Wilkerson accompanied the three on trips to visit friends and family, back to the southern lands they left behind. She visited them in the hospital and attended their funerals. She knew their dreams and disappointments.

So it was with no small measure of authority that at the end of the book Wilkerson could write:
The three who had come out of the South were left widowed but solvent, and each found some measure of satisfaction because whatever had happened to them, however things had unfolded, it had been of their own choosing, and they could take comfort in that. They believed with all that was in them that they were better off for having made the Migration, that they may have made many mistakes in their lives, but leaving the South had not been one of them.
(Tens of thousands of emigres from the South moved to Harlem in New York City.)

Labels: ,

blogger counters