1. Near the end of the book, Wilkerson asks: “With all that grew out of the mass movement of people, did the Great Migration achieve the aim of those who willed it? Were the people who left the South—and their families—better off for having done so? Was the loss of what they left behind worth what confronted them in the anonymous cities they fled to?” (p. 528). How does Wilkerson answer these questions? What’s your opinion? (Thanks again to Peter!)
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?
1. After reading this section I don't think there's a general way to answer this question. Each person who experienced the move is going to evaluate their choices for themselves, and that's the only evaluation that truly matters. George laments that his children returned to Florida that he escaped. Ida's friend returned to Mississippi, only to soon lose her husband who hadn't wanted to go back. Ida herself, while wistful and happy to see old friends on her last trip, certainly has no regrets as she fully intends to be buried in Chicago. She confronted crime and acknowledged that there were severe problems in her new home yet it did not drive her to go back, other than the infrequent trip. Yet they still could feel the part of them that was the South. George had two funeral services and is buried in Eustis.
2. What I kept thinking about in this section is the intense connection Wilkerson must have developed with these people--driving them to places, attending meetings with them, visiting people with them, over the course of years ... they must really have come to feel like family. Though combined with scholarly analysis of the Great Migration as an historic event, you can tell that the writing became very personal.
3. I wish I could interview Ida's, George's, and Robert's descendents, asking them what they think about the book and how the "Great Migration" affected their own lives.
4. I would want to make a connection about historical scholarship and discuss with students the challenges, merits, and potential pitfalls of certain types of sources, as well as the process of analyzing and comparing them to other sources. I would want to discuss Wilkerson's approach and how she chose these three individuals and how it affects her overall analysis.
1. Wilkerson answers these questions for each of the migrants - often in their own words. For George, there is no question that he was better off for having migrated. He would probably be dead if he hadn't. But Wilkerson takes the time to show how the South remained in each migrant long after they left it and how each in their own way were sad that the next generation did not fully realize the sacrifice they had made in migrating and the blessings they had received as a result. That is why I think George was so grieved by his son's drug use, why Ida Mae couldn't stand the crime outside her apartment, and why Robert felt compelled to be recognized for his accomplishments.
2. Quote - One of my favorite parts was when Wilkerson showed how long it took for Lake County Florida to change and how Sheriff Willis McCall continued to be reelected even though he was such a racist. It was comforting though that the day came when George could go back for a visit and see that it had changed. "I never thought I'd see the day when a black man would walk down the street holding hands with a white woman," he said. "It amazes me when I see the intermingling. When I was a boy down here, when you went through the white neighborhood you had to be practically running. Now black people are living in there." (p. 474).I also loved the story about Ida Mae's meeting with a young community organizer - Barrack Obama.
3. Question - I was curious about Robert's daughters feelings about him. It didn't seem like they were particularly close and I wondered what their reaction was to this book.
4. I would like to share with students the thoughts of people like George and Ida Mae on returning to the south as a springboard to show how times have changed.
Materially speaking, all were substantially better off. Psychologically, I’m not so sure. Clearly their southern roots stayed with them. As Laura pointed out about Robert, he’s carrying some heavy baggage. George’s job, with the constant travel, worked against his marriage and made family life difficult. The new arrivals to the North set the stage for the next generation. Whether the second generation would take advantage of the new (still limited) opportunities was beyond the control of the parents. In the end, yes, they made the right choice.
Quote p.508 “The important thing is to keep coming.” Ida Mae’s son, James, about an unproductive neighborhood crime watch meeting.
To me this symbolized the perseverance all 3 characters displayed as they made their way to new lives. And the toughness required of all migrants, everywhere.
Question: I wonder why Wilkerson chose ‘Aftermath’ as the section title. To me, the term has a negative connotation – a mess to be dealt with. From a dictionary: something that results or follows from an event, especially one of a disastrous or unfortunate nature; consequence: the aftermath of war; the aftermath of the flood. Was it the personal situation of the characters? In the last section she clearly details the positive impacts, so I’m confused by this.
Classroom: A general question could be on evaluating a significant personal decision the student or the family undertook. How did they arrive at it? Was it the right decision? Etc.
1. I am not sure she exactly does. I think she leaves some of the answers up to the reader. I am not sure if was worth it. There always sacrifices and pros and cons when you do what you think what is best for your immediate family. A great number of these people left behind family members knowing they would never see them again. It reminds me of my family that left Cuba knowing they would probably never see their remaining family members again.
2. I would love more info. from the family that was left behind.
3. I would love to have my kids answer the question-Was it worth it? What would you have done if you were in Ida's shoes??
1. I agree that in terms of materials and standard of living the migrants' lives had improved but the horrors of their southern lives stayed with them. You can't really think that they would be out and just past it. Being raised to early adulthood in an atmosphere of fear and potential murder for the slightest violation of their societies' "norms" is not something that you "get over" easily. The discrimination they experienced, while not as directly violent, still existed in different forms in the north.
2. "It occurred to me that no matter where I lived, geography could not save me."
3. I found the part in the epilogue where the author listed the famous children of the migration interesting and wonder what their level of awareness is of their ancestors' struggles were and what they did so their future generations could live better lives.
4. I am so glad I read this book...There is so much a Sociology class could look at here...norms, values, deviance...
1. My thoughts here echo fellow posters – I find it hard to make a blanket statement. Each migrant had to answer this question for themselves. Though life in the north or west wasn’t the utopian vision perhaps they had hoped for and they sacrificed much to get there, we can make the argument Ida, George and Robert all had opportunities in their adopted cities that they would not have had back in their home of birth.
2. Quote – “These are the lost grandchildren of the Migration who have grown hard in the big city and did not absorb the lessons of the past or the good to be found in the steadying rituals and folk wisdom of the South.”
3. Question – Wilkerson discusses a “stirring among the original migrants and their children” over whether or not to go back to the south. I’d be interested to learn how many children of migrants and migrants themselves did ultimately return to the south.
4. Classroom Connection–Harlem and the writers of the Harlem Renaissance are a prominent theme throughout the book. I’d invite students to trace compare the growth and transformation of Harlem to another major migration center.
This might be interesting to you:
1974 article on reverse migration: http://partners.nytimes.com/library/national/race/061874race-ra.html
I did however read an article yesterday (which now I cannot find) but it did say that fewer African-Americans are returning at present due to the housing market.
It would be interesting to have students read primary sources on the from the perspective of different metro areas and across different eras. You could do mini case-studies in groups--(Detroit, LA, New York, Philadelphia, etc.)
Hello, I believe for most they were better off. Although not all migrants did well, the lion's share were much better off financially which in turn gave them more freedom. The contact they had with there previous lives also gave them an appreciation of what they received through migration.
I agree with Angela in that I would love to find out more about the people they left behind and their success staying. I would guess they did not change much as their lives probably became stagnant.
As far as students they could evaluate case by case how successful migrants were.