I’ve started reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s about the great migration, it chronicles the lives of three people Ida Mae Gladney, Robert Pershing Foster and George Starling. It’s over 500 pages long, but reads quickly, I’m not quite half way into the book, but I’m already enjoying it.
I found myself feeling emotional when Wilkerson wrote about how even in the present day, many Black Northerners can trace their roots back to a particular region in the south because that is where the historic rail lines were linked. For example Blacks in Chicago and the midwest generally come from places like Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee. Black Northereners in the West (California etc.) can trace their roots to Texas, Louisianna, Arkansas. Blacks in the Northeast (New York, Philadelphia etc.) can trace their roots back to the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Florida and other southern states in the Southeast.
Although on my maternal side, my family didn’t participate in the Great Migration because they were already in a more lenient southern state(some consider it a Northern State), although it was still segregated. They simply migrated from their country home on the bay to the city within the same state. Although my mother side can trace their roots in slavery to North Carolina, but that’s another story. However, my father’s side did participate in the Great Migration. They came from South Carolina and traveled further North. When I was in one of my African-American studies course, our professor had all of us tell her where our grandparents were born or grew up and ALL of us could trace our grandparents back to the Carolinas, a region where many Black people left to come further North.
For some reason it made me emotional to think that my family participated in the Great Migration. It made me think about the hope that they had looking forward and the desperation that they must have felt living in such an oppressive time where you couldn’t eat where you wanted and risked being lynched or raped for no reason. It made me wonder if I was living up to their expectations…if I had lived up to their hopes and dreams. It made me sad to think that they supported each other so much and I felt like my generation of Black people, my contemporaries do not support each other at all, it seems.
It was also saddening to see that some of the Northern cities that our grandparents and great-grandparents fled to during the Great Migration are now seen as “ghettos,” or low income housing projects.
I remember reading this article about a “Reverse mini migration,” where Blacks who were the descendants of those who participate in the Great Migration were actually moving back down South and census records indicate that many Blacks are, in fact, moving back down South. One woman wrote about being brutalized by the police and thrown against a car. One thing she said stood out to me, “I never felt like I was the descendant of slaves until that day.” I think we’ve all that moment. I had never felt like I was the descendant of slaves until the day that I was told by a manager at a job I was applying for that he couldn’t hire me because I was a graduating senior and he needed someone to work through the school year. I later found out from my white friend that he had hired several white seniors for two months before they left for college. In that moment, I felt like the descendant of slaves…as I am,but I’d never been treated that way before. Such blatant racism, such judgement. This was in the 2000s , but it seems like something that would have happened in the Jim Crow south, 1950s. The woman who was thrown against the car later made the decision to move back down south, which is where her grandmother came from.
It made me think that we’ve come a long way, but in many ways things haven’t changed. We still have the Trayvon Martins and the Rekia Boyds and the police brutality, we still have the subtle, institutionalized racism. Yet, we’re supposedly in the “post-racial,” era. It made me feel like… is there truly any place that Blacks can go to escape the sickness of racism?
I am enjoying the book so far, I will write a formal review when I’ve finished.
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