Sep 5, 2010

The Great Migration

In a new book, The Warmth of Other Suns, author Isabel Wilkerson tells the story of migrating African-Americans in the early 20th century. Many would end their northward journeys on the South Side of Chicago, including in the Englewood neighborhood where my mother and her family lived in the 1940s. I'm certain Dot attended Englewood High School with children of the migrants Wilkerson describes.

From a review in the New York Times:
In the winter of 1916, as Americans read the news of unimaginable slaughter in a distant yet rapidly spreading European war, it was easy to overlook stories like the one in The Chicago Defender reporting that several black families in Selma, Ala., had left the South. A popular African-American weekly, The Defender would publish dozens of such stories in the coming years, heralding the good jobs and friendly neighbors that awaited these migrants in Chicago, even printing train schedules to point the way north. Smuggled into Southern railroad depots by Pullman porters, dropped off by barnstorming black athletes and entertainers, The Defender emerged as both cheerleader and chronicler of an exodus that would lead about six million African-Americans to abandon the states of the Old Confederacy between 1915 and 1970. “If all of their dream does not come true,” it confidently predicted, “enough will come to pass to justify their actions.”


They eventually settled in Chicago, where George found work in a Campbell Soup factory, Ida Mae in a hospital. There no longer were “colored” and “white” signs to degrade them, but the specter of racial caste was omnipresent. The Gladneys survived by exploiting the small but significant advantages of Northern life, while retaining the work ethic of their rural Mississippi roots.

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