Part II: Reflection Question

1. This story is delivered as a narrative nonfiction that weaves the journeys of three unique individuals into a larger historical context. Is there one character that you truly made a connection with in story so far? What traits or characteristics drew you to this person? Can you think of a “breaking away” experience in your own lifetime that relates to the character that you have selected?
(pp. 165-176)

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

1.  I just find the story George Starling so compelling!  For starters, I'd never thought about the labor that makes my morning glass of orange juice possible.  The depiction of orange picking...and the dangers is so vivid.  However, on a more personal level, I connect to George's incredible passion for learning and desire to attend college. I grew up in far different circumstances (white, middle class, northern) but I am a life-long student...I can't imagine having that door closed to me.

2.  p. 157..."Leaving was his only option...I'm gonna get my clothes together, and then I'm gonna take off.  Because I'm not gonna change."  I think this turning point for George is so critical...and also calls in to question the idea that the migration was "voluntary."  If he had stayed in Florida, George would have been lynched.

3.  I would be interested to know what if any rights citrus laborers have today.  Is it still piece work?  Still so dangerous?  I have studied the efforts of Chavez and the UFW, but am less familiar with labor in Florida.

4.  I always love reinforcing the idea that my students are so blessed to have their educational opportunities.  There are several examples in this chapter of young people who would give anything for a good education.  Who said that we don't know how many hidden diamonds are buried in the South?  May have been DuBois.  Anyway, that's the connection I'd make.

Hi Sara, I don't know about citrus workers, but Barry Estabrook has written about the conditions of the Florida tomato pickers in his book Tomatoland.

Hi  Sara:

I am not sure of the politics behind fruit picking but I do live in Eustis.  Since the time of George Starling parts of Eustis have come to resemble "Any Suburb U.S.A."  We are now a commuter city in the Orlando Metro area.  There is still however a clear division of the "white" part of town and the "black" part of town.  This was a completely new concept to me when I moved here after living in mostly urban areas. 

Anyhow, most of the picking in the area today is done by Mexican migrant workers.  When I taught at the high school  their children would come and go.  Often times these students were working as well and struggled to stay awake when they did attend school. I would say that few African-Americans are currently in the citrus industry as a whole.  We are in full swing of the citrus picking season right now.  I was on a walk the other day and saw a small beat up bus pull up with workers to a local grove.  I am not sure where the bus came from but they were certainly hard at work plucking the crops from the trees. I got the impression that they might have lived in close range and whoever the employer was brought them to the work sites.

There is an orange juice plant that I drive past every week day on the way to my son's school.  I can't help but to thing of all of the George Starling's of the world as I pass it.

I am trying to do something with the report below on the city with a local geographer and the local AP Human Geography teacher--hopefully some sort of field walk and accompanying lesson plans.  I am sure that it is not of much interest outside of the community but it does have some interesting pictures to help readers establish time and place for the surroundings of George Starling.

Eustis Bates Avenue Area

Thanks Shauna, I'll take a look at the report; and thanks too for sharing your observations of Eustis today.

I live in Berkeley, arguably the most liberal city in CA, and in the US. Yet even here, we have parts of town that are almost exclusively black; and our high school, which was one of the first in CA to integrate during the 1950s, has in effect internally resegregated. Walking the campus at lunch time you'll see whites predominantly with whites, blacks with blacks and hispanics with hispanics. This segregation is evident in academic performance as well

We clearly have a very long way to go to reach Dr. King's dream of a color blind society.

It's interesting to me, Shauna, that a black part of town and a white part of town were foreign concepts to you. Growing up in the South, I never recall questioning it.  Sadly, I think most southern towns STILL have neighborhoods that are delineated as black neighborhoods.  In some cases, the boundaries have moved from what they were but the segregation still exists. In Kissimmee, I was not aware of a name for the black part of town, but today it is called by the housing project that is there now.  Thanks for sharing the report on Eustis.  It was interesting!

1. Of course I have to say that I identify with George Starling simply because I live in the community that he hailed from.  My son plays ball in his old stomping grounds and we own a business in town--I pass the places mentioned in my daily routine. Since I have read the book, I have never looked at some of those places in the same way.  I have a new found appreciation to say the least.

As far as a breaking away experience, I did not have to overcome the challenges of any of the people in the book however I have always been one to take a leap and have tried to look for opportunities.  I don't know if if is boredom that drive me, passion,  or looking for the next best thing.  Perhaps a combination of all of those things and some others.  I moved to Manchester, England when I was in my early 20s to go to grad school.  I had never been to England but I knew that this was something that I wanted to do and needed to do for myself.  Nobody in my immediate family had attended college and everyone pretty much lived (and still lives) within a 20 mile radius of one another.  I didn't have much money and I didn't fit the mold of most international students, but I made that leap anyhow and I value that experience. It was the most mind opening cultural experience of my life aside from what I learned about in the books.

2. "Leaving was his only option.  He went to tell his father.  Big George was trying to set out a little grove of his own at a place called Grand Island just five or six miles out from town..." p. 157

--I live in this part of town.  I am pretty sure that my development was once orange groves. (I know that the development across the street was until a few years ago.)  From what I know this neighborhood was once a golf course but I imagine that oranges filled the land once too.  I wonder if George and Big George were once picking oranges in my exact neighborhood.  I think that this is something that I will look into.

3. It struck me that Robert Joseph Pershing Foster created a new identity for himself in California.  In The South he was known as Pershing, in California he was Robert or just Bob.  We see this with the immigrant groups as well.  Even today, women get manicures and pedicures by Vietnamese women known as "Susan" or men known on their business cards as "Michael."  I am curious to know if there have been psych/soc. studies done on this "name changing" and how in impacts groups of immigrants or in this case domestic migrants.

4. With the new buzz of Facebook timelines, it might be interesting to have students create "timelines" for one of the individuals in the books--maybe with 10 posts and then perhaps get a bit more involved for older and more advanced students.  It would be interesting to trace the early days to their final days in the North.

Excellent observation about changing names to create new identities in new locales. I've actually just been working on that in my own family this week. My mother immigrated to the US with her siblings and mother in 1911 when she was 5 years old. Her father had come the year before to establish a place for them to live before sending for them. She had always told me that after leaving Ellis Island, they stopped in Chicago on their way to Tacoma to stay for a short time with one of her paternal uncles and his family. It was there that an older cousin helped them choose new, American names. It is by those names that they were known for the remainder of their lives, but from her 50s on, my mother regretted the change and tried (without success) to get people to call her by her original given name.

Anyway, one of my cousins was recently able to locate the immigration records for my mother and her family on the Ellis Island web site. There, we found a hand written ledger entry showing all of their original names (Anglicized by the immigration officer). The spellings, and in some cases the entire given names, are different from what I and my cousins had thought them to be; but it has been a thrilling find.

My mother also explained to me that her father had changed all of their ages, making them two years younger than they actually were, so that they would be able to begin school in earlier grades, and thereby, hopefully, have more time to learn to speak and write English so as to do better. Her two oldest brothers (10 and 11 when they arrived in the US) never lost their accents, but all of the younger children were able to grow up without accents. All did well in school, graduating from high school in the 19 teens and 20s at a time when most Americans did not have that much formal schooling.

They were also somewhat embarrassed by their status as immigrants and naturalized citizens in their adult years. They had been raised with an intense desire to fit in as real Americans. Perhaps it was this desire to put the past behind them and fit into their new environments, among those who participated in the Great Migration that is the subject of Wilkerson's book, that led them to seek new names as part of their new circumstances.

I find the name changing fascinating too... my grandmother was big on making sure people pronounced our name the proper way "boo-shay" for Boucher. My half-siblings' last name is Larzazs, which is a total change from the original which I don't even know how to spell but I know begins with a "W." It was misspelled at Ellis Island, but not the "L" part. That came later, when their grandfather changed the last name to hide from the law as he was being pursued for running moonshine. ;)

I was able to connect most with Starling.  His drive to improve his circumstances hit home.   He took advantage of opportunities as they were presented, for example, the almost union like behavior with the plantation owners when he knew he had them over a barrel.  He knew when he was in danger and needed to leave the south because of this.

I did not come from the south, but our family was very poor growing up.  There was not any money for any extras.  We were lucky to have the clothes we needed and food on the table. As I grew older I learned to be resourceful and make the most of my abilities and I, too, moved when it would help me better my circumstances.

"I guess I expected the unexpectable," he said, "because they don't look at things the way I do." This was Starling's big aha moment that I was waiting for him to have.  I was happy when he finally realized that he, as one man, was not going to be able to affect the changes so desperately needed in the south.

My curiosity is piqued by this entire book.  I find it difficult to stop reading.  I cannot wait to see what happens next in these people's lives and hope in the end it was all worth it to make the move north.

I would want my students to realize that regardless of their circumstances and how hopeless they may seem at the time, they can improve their lot in life.  They may not be rich in the end, but even little changes can make a big difference.

1. It is hard to pick one character because I find all three very compelling but if I had to pick, I would choose George because he is from Eustis in Lake County, Florida - a place I know since it is in the county adjoining mine.  I relate to his need for education, his wish to "get out" of Lake County, and his desire for more in life.  I grew up in a small town (Kissimmee) similar to Eustis in Florida and wanted nothing more than to "get out" as a teen.  Once I left for college, I never returned home except for short visits.  Ironically, though, after living abroad for some years, and then in a large city (Miami), and after having children, I returned home and raised my children in the same small town I grew up in. Of course,we didn't face the injustice that George did.  To add to the irony, now that my kids are raised, I find myself wanting to leave again because Kissimmee is not  small enough any more.   I wonder if George, Ida Mae, and even Pershing ever desire to return to where they were raised (especially years later when Jim Crown laws are gone).

2. Quote: I was struck by 2 stories:

The account of the Belle Isle race riot in Detroit (p.131) that George experienced: "the first major riot in which blacks fought back as earnestly as the the whites and in which black residents, having become established in the city but still relegated to run-down ghettos, began attacking and looting perceived symbols of exploitation...It was only after Detroit that riots became known as primarily urban phenomena..." 

The second was the story of how Ida May's sharecropper husband settled up for the last time with Mr. Edd and spoke up and told Mr. Edd not only that he was leaving but why. "George told him he didn't like what happened to Joe Lee.  Oh, you ain't gon' leave for that, Mr. Edd said. "It wasn't none a you." 

Clearly times they are a changing!

3.  I was curious as to how much time Isabel Wilkerson spent interviewing these three to reconstruct such detail from their memories of long-ago events.

4. Last week, I attended a Civil Rights Conference sponsored by NCHE honoring the surviving members of the Friendship Nine and commemorating the 50th anniversary of their landmark decision in 1961 to accept Jail without Bail for their non-violent sit-in. Their actions resonated across the Civil Rights movement and "Jail, no Bail" was adopted throughout the South. I had not heard of these 9 Friendship Junior College students before attending the conference and was struck by their courage and willingness to do whatever it took to fight injustice.  For them, the time to flee, retreat, or accept the status quo was over.  Even though George, Pershing, and Ida Mae fled the South, I think they exhibited the same kind of courage as the Civil Rights workers did a few years later.  I would ask students what would inspire them to take a stand today  when faced with injustice.

1.  I really found Ida Mae's story interesting.  Especially the portion around p90 that talks about the caste system and economics of being in their position in the South.  They could dream f getting ahead and scrimp and save as much as they could, getting by on less than nothing, and yet never be able to reach the lives they yearned for if they stayed where they were.  She was not good at picking cotton so she found another way to help make ends come closer to meeting.  My big break away was coming to Florida from Ohio.  I wanted to carve out my own place and find what I was good at too.

2.  I liked the discussion of how the people who returned to the South after moving North wore flashy clothes and talked about the money they were making.  They were a beacon of hope for the people who wanted to get out.

3.  i am just wanting to learn more about the people's stories!!  This is an awesome book!!

4.  The caste system and social mobility and stratification are very Sociology-like.  There are great examples here of an American caste system much like that of India that will be a huge learning experience for my kids.

1. Reading about Ida Mae's childhood reminds me of my own with my father, following him to his work and helping him however I could (you could call him a man-of-all-work--at various times I helped at a print shop, painting businesses and residences, handing him plumbing parts, watching sparks as he welded a car frame...). I am really drawn to Ida Mae's determination and bravery. In a sense, though the motivations were completely different, I can understand the desire to make your own choices, whether someone important approves or not (like with Ida's decision to marry) but also to go somewhere where you can be more than possible in a small town (like Robert Foster). I convinced my parents to move to Florida, and let me come alone first to start school because my mother could not get here until a month later. Of course, my move was not of the urgent nature as Ida's, and I was not pregnant and again admire her bravery to follow through at that time.


2. and 3. p. 167 "The sharecropper's forced silence was part of the collusion that fed the mythology." Every time I read about landowners, whether during slavery or sharecropping, not being able to fathom that their workers would want to leave, I just can't help but shake my head. Really? You think they kept silent because they were happy? I know the documents are there to support it--just still can't believe it. I suppose I am curious how the evidence really stacks up, as far as was it truly more likely that plantation owners thought their workers were content or were they actively deluding themselves, or only acknowledging the truth in secret?


4.  I would focus on the push part of push-pull factors to introduce these individuals' stories to this point. I think most anyone can relate to wanting (or needing) to leave where they are, maybe not because life itself is at stake but certainly for compelling reasons.





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