Part III: Reflection Question

1. In this section of the book Wilkerson discusses the crossing over experience as George, Ida Mae and Robert leave the South for a new life in the North or the West. She writes, “[t]he earliest departures were merely the first step in a divorce that would take more than a half century to complete.” (p. 217) Have we been able to reconcile this so called divorce as a nation? Discuss.

2. Quote – What is something that sparked your interest, you didn’t understand, something that you identified with or one thing that summed up the section for you?

3. Question – What are you curious about after reading this section?

4. Classroom Connection–How might you connect something that you have read about to your students in the classroom?

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Replies to This Discussion

Jenn:  Great lesson connection!

Here is the link to an in depth piece on the Trayvon Martin killing from today's New York Times:

We are still in the midst of the reconciliation.  People left the South to escape life threatening conditions.  While lynching is rare, racism certainly has not disappeared.  The lack of prosperity in the African American community is connected to Jim Crow laws, the lack of educational opportunities and the racism and indifference of white society.


Wealth Gap between whites and blacks, in my mind, led to the Achievement Gap, both of which need to be solved (reconciled?) before American society will have remedied its mistakes. 



While remedies exist for unfair treatment of groups, people and institutions with power continue to advance their own interests (be that profit, influence, status) at the expense of other members of society. 




Page 202


“That is how they managed to get a bed for the night.  But it was said that the memory stayed with Jules and that he was not quite ever they same after that.”


The psychological impact of segregation must have been enormous.


Question – the mechanics or logistics of segregation are more than I imagined.  The unspoken rules about using ‘sir’, the story about dressing like a white women – all the idiosyncrasies are amazing.  Not to mention the physical issues – adding and subtracting train cars as the laws changed, building black and white facilities  - how to calculate the cost???


Classroom Connection


One connection might be to put a price on segregation – what it cost the taxpayers, what it cost individuals.


Or, ask students to calculate the cost of a migration their family has made.  Besides the physical cost there is an emotional cost –what might that be?

Perhaps this is bit off topic - but

As a companion to The Warmth of Other Suns, I started reading The Condemnation of Blackness:  Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America. (K. Muhammad).  The book jumped out at me while I was trying to find my dad a good book on WWI. 


This is a much tougher read than Warmth – well written, but not the engaging personal stories told by Wilkerson.  I’ve only made it through the first couple of chapters.  Muhammad is charting how blacks and crime have become inextricably linked.


He’s looking at several of the major cities – Chicago, New York and Philadelphia on the receiving end of the Great Migration.  His timeframe starts post civil war but appears to go only through the 1930’s. He targets key individuals and their writings to show how faulty conclusions were made about blacks, which have endured through present times.  First he detailed the post Civil War attempts to show blacks as intellectually inferior because their brains did not develop fully and how they are physically inferior, through bad science such as skull research.  These efforts failed as good science was prevailing in show there was more variation within races than between them.  What he is working towards is the 1890’s census, which was the one generation from slavery and was widely used to show how blacks were beyond reform or capable of improvement.  It was also used to suggest blacks were a dying race.  Both conclusions were used to justify limiting resources.


In chapter 1 he wrote about Harvard scientists Nathaniel S. Shaler, who influenced thousands of Harvard graduates and who knows how many others via his articles in popular periodicals.  Shaler’s contribution was to push the debate about blacks from antidotal tales and physical measures to one using the new field of statistics –‘Statistics will lead the way to a new understanding of black people’s ‘true racial capacity’.


In chapter 2 he details how F. Hoffman’s Race Traits and Tendencies of the America Negro upped the ante against blacks.  Hoffman interpreted the census data to show black behavior was impervious to education and moral training.   This in turn was used to justify limiting resources to the black community.


Here’s two examples of Hoffman’s logic


A)There was no crime or poverty in the black community under slavery


B)  – white suicides were attributed to the consequences of society while black suicides were attributed to an innate weakness and to avoid the consequences of the crimes they had committed.



On page 260, Wilkerson offers a quote from Sadie Mossell – “With few exceptions the migrants were untrained, often illiterate, and generally void of culture.”


Khalil Muhammad puts this quote in some perspective.  Mosell was the first black women to receive a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania and the quote comes from her 1921 dissertation.  Her research, which focused on 100 migrant families in Philadelphia, showed significant segregation in housing and recreation.  Mossell does not highlight those conclusions but instead blames the migrants.  She overlooks the price gouging that victimized the migrants and the toleration of vice by the police – Prohibition is right around the corner. 

Muhammad writes, “Mossell’s highlighting of the migrant criminality was based on false premise that, before migrants arrived, the ‘Philadelphia Negro…had always enjoyed the same social and educational facilities as the whites and courteous treatment from them.

Several replies already posted brought up the Trayvon Martin case as an example of the lingering problems from the divorce resulting from the Great Migration.  It is not the first time that a legal case has captured the country and focused our lens on race.  It makes me think of W.E.B. Dubois's words "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line".  Well, here we are in the 21st century and it still seems that the problem is the color line.

2. Quote: "They carried with them twenty-five pounds of ide in a lard bucket as a makeshift air conditioner - or for the radiator if it overheated..."  I was struck by the "exquisite planning" that was necessary for the migrants to travel.  Having made a cross country road trip just last December and being familiar with how weary driving can be, I can't imagine driving for three full days and three full nights!

3. I couldn't help but admire their courage - whether by train or car - how brave they were to set out alone for a new city and a new life.

4.  Students today can't imagine going out the door with without a cell phone, traveling without a GPS in their car, many can't read a map.  It would be interesting to have them discuss how they might plan a trip to another city and then compare it to the situation of the migrants in another time.

I absolute think that we have a long way to go on this front but I am hopeful with the younger generations.  For example, my grandmother might refer to someone as "a Chinese fella", whereas someone from a younger generation might refer to the same person as, "a guy with a green shirt."  Although it might not seem like much, it seems like progress on some level.

One quote that caught me was at the very end where a man was talking about waning to know the bus schedule but was never told.  He said "A lot of things you 'd want to know, you couldn't ask."  As an extremely inquisitive person, this would crush me, however it was a way of life for some many for so long.

I would love to do a unit on journeys--all kind of journeys and team up with an English and/or a foreign language teacher to make it come to life.

1. I think we have to a certain extent.  However, I think we still have a ways to go.  We still have schools in lower-socioeconomic areas, primarily made up of minorities, that are still not equal to those in the middle-high socioeconomic levels. We have made great strides, but unfortunately, there will always be room for improvement.

2. "You tried to stay awake until you found such a place.  It might take fifteen minutes.  It might take an hour.  Before you stopped you ran your eyes over the resting car's bumper and windshield looking for a confederate flag."

3.  I am really intrigued by the courage these people had.  To leave the only life they had ever known, to try and find a better life for themselves.

4. I really thing that this particular part of the book would really hit home for some of my students that are immigrants, and who may not be here legally.  I believe they could relate to a great number of the issues the people in the book encountered.

Unfortunately, I do not believe we will every completely reconcile the divorce.  I believe that some groups do not want the reconciliation, enjoying the discord and other groups are so apathetic to these issues they do not even contemplate a reconciliation.  The divorce has changed face a little as well, I find we are becoming more divided amongst financial lines as much as the racial divide.  Is a "war" amongst the classes a forgone conclusion, I think so as people realize that greed is a true sin.

What was interesting to me was the discussion of El Paso, Texas as a border town, with the author not meaning as a U.S./Mexico border but as a Deep South/free Southwest border. I had never considered this the western "Mason Dixon" line!

This could possibly be used to teach point of view, reality vs. perception..etc.


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