Thank you for your willingness to participate in a book chat on The Warmth of Other Suns. As some of you know (a migrant myself) I have come to call Eustis, Florida home--the home of George Starling. I was fortunate enough to hear the author, Isabel Wilkerson, speak last spring and fell in love with her style of weaving in a dark era of American History with personal narratives that really touch the inner soul. In many ways she shares the stories of both the average Joe and the great American hero.
Hate him or love him this book was on the president's summer reading list while he vacationed in Martha's Vineyard last year. The message of this book is an important one and I hope that you will have new insights on The Great Migration to share with your students. Lastly, my wish is that you will enjoy this read as much I did. Invite your friends! I look forward to reading your posts.
First Posting: by 2/19 (Part I)--scroll down for questions
Second Posting: by 3/4 (Part II)
Third Posting: by 3/18 (Part III)
Forth Posting: by 4/8 (Part IV)
Fifth Posting: by 4/29 (Part V and Epilogue)
Part I: Reflection Question
1. The term ‘The Great Migration’ has been given by historians to one of the greatest voluntary migrations of all time. However, most who participated in this so called silent pilgrimage never saw their personal decision to leave the American South as anything more than just that—a personal decision. Is the term Great Migration an appropriate one? Why or why not? When did you first learn about The Great Migration?
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?
Thanks for letting me know, Shauna. I hope the results were interesting.
1. In high school English, I read John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, so I was familiar with the Dust Bowl migration. In APUSH, I learned about the Harlem Renaissance, and knew that African Americans migrated and brought talents to cities. But I did not know the official term of Great Migration, that it lasted from 1915-1970, until I started reading this book.
2. This quote here from p. 8 sums up how tough it was to be an African American in 1902, “Where can we go to feel the security which other people feel?.” All they wanted was some peace and security that was severely lacking in the South.
3. After reading this section, I wonder why the Great Migration was not discussed more.
4. Everybody had to move from somewhere to get here. We can all relate to wanting or needing to move. We could discuss what brought us here.
I can’t recall where I first heard the term ‘The Great Migration’, perhaps in college, or maybe as early as high school, having grown up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. My mom grew up in the South Shore area of Chicago and we regularly visited relatives in the city. At some point my parents, mostly likely my dad, used the term to explain what we were seeing on our visits. In her Democracy Now! interview (9/29/10) Wilkerson makes a compelling case for the term ‘great’, pointing out the profound economic, social, political and cultural impacts stemming from the flood of migrants moving North. Her use of feudal and caste systems initially struck me as out of place, but upon reflection I believe those terms are absolutely correct. Blacks didn’t stand a chance in the South.
The paragraphs on page 14 dealing with the distortions of the emigrants took me by surprise. I had not heard those arguments made before. The details provided by S. Tolnay make perfect sense when we remember that the best, the brightest, the most daring left and moved North.
I’m completely engaged by the writing and story telling. When not reading history, I love a good mystery and there is plenty of suspense in these pages.
The whole concept of being an emigrant within ones own country is pretty intriguing. That idea might be developed by getting students to think about how well they are connected to or embraced by their own communities.
I love your point, Peter, about the concept of being an emigrant within your own country. Students notice that communities of like people tend to stick together so this is an interesting concept for them to explore - are they connected to a community? What characterizes their community?
I have been discussing brain drain with students in World History and I wonder how a discussion of that from the perspective of what the African American brain drain did to the Southern economy after the migration...
Miss Theenie stood watching. One by one, her children had left her and gone up north. Sam and Cleve to Ohio. Josie to Syracuse. Irene to Milwaukee. Now the man Miss Theenie had tried to keep Ida Mae from marrying in the first place was taking her away, too. Miss Theenie had no choice but to accept it and let Ida Mae and the grandchildren go for good. Miss Theenie drew them close to her, as she always did whenever anyone was leaving. She had them bow their heads. She whispered a prayer that her daughter and her daughter's family be protected on the long journey ahead in the Jim Crow car.
"May the Lord be the first in the car," she prayed, "and the last out."
4. Obviously the use of the first hand accounts to make a vast and disorganized movement real and personal lends itself to meaningful classroom discussion and reflection. I would encourage students to consider how they might respond to the limitations of life in the American south in (for example) 1920. Would you stay, or would you go?
The term Great Migration I often apply to the waves of Europeans crossing the big pond in search of a better life.
I am very curious about Americans internal great migration. As the grandson of Irish/Canadian immigrants I can relate to the tails of plight. The seeking of a new start.
Quote: The were willing to make almost any sacrifice to obtain a railroad ticket.This sounds so similar to the flight of many Europeans. I find the phight of the Aftrican-Americans different. They have no intentions of ever returning. Not Even as a triumphant hero.
Question: How does the north (and Calf) earn this reputation of Land of fair play and higher paying jobs. We know of the sweatshop work that awaits many new immigrants or emigrants.
I would love to entertain a discussion about families selling all (or giving it away) to chase the American dream. Shedding all to start over. Can we still do this today in our technology linked world? How many students are willing to take this chance. (Such as heading off to college) or How many choose to stay behind in the safety of their small towns and worlds.
When I taught AP Human Geo. we talked about migration, both voluntary and involuntary. I am pretty sure that the Great Migration, which was not covered in HG, was one of an involuntary nature. Most of these men and women had no choice. It was either leave, or live in fear.
I really enjoyed the quote-"The people did not cross the turnstiles of customs at Ellis Island. They were already citizens/ But where they came from, they were not treated as such."
I am really curious to see how these men are treated during the course of their migration.
I believe that in any Social Studies class you can tie in migration to at least 1 lesson you're teaching. In World Geo. I would like to tie it into the 5 Themes of Geography assignment. A great number of my students moved under their own volition, I would like to ask them how they would feel if they really had no choice and had to leave their family behind.
1. I heard the term "Great Migration" first when Julian Bond, the chairman of the NAACP at the time, and my professor for a Politics of the Civil Rights Era class told us that Washington was a black city because of the Great Migration. It was said in passing but I've always been interested in that time period and the events surrounding it because of his mention. I spent a summer working with groups in DC on a PD through Ford's Theatre regarding the Civil War in Washington and we learned about Contraband Camps (escaped slaves who lived in DC during the Civil War) -- I wonder if in fact the Migration really starts then. My students were looking at post-Civil War immigrant groups and were really interested to find that the majority of African Americans didn't leave the South until after 1915. Why there was such a delay between emancipation and escape or migration seems like an interesting research question.
2. I don't have my text with me but I think the part that really struck me was Pershing's story. I'm not exactly even sure why yet...but it's the one I think about the most when I'm not reading.
3. See Above
4. I'm actually going to give my students an excerpt of the passage of the situation on the trains to give them a sense of what the experience of the Migration was like and then hoping later in the text is a great example of why there were needs for reforms in the cities where the new urban workers landed.
I am finding it difficult to read beyond a few pages at a time. The writing is too good; the descriptions of life too raw. Wilkerson's vivid depictions of the injustice and meanness and the ways in which Jim Crow twisted the souls of all touched by it are often just too much.
I was born in 1947, and even though I lived in California, my memories of what I saw on my family's TV set during the Kennedy years from the streets of the South are still clear. This book is dredging all of those emotions to the surface again. It is also reminding me of the time I spent as a soldier in Vietnam in 1971. There I saw most of my fellow soldiers treat the Vietnamese in many of the same ways Wilkerson's prose shows Southern whites treating blacks. The Ugly American was real, not fiction.
What have been your emotional responses as you read?