If I didn’t already know it I am declaring it publicly now: I should never ignore a book recommendation from my friend Erica. After all, isn’t she the one who urged “Tinkers” on me before the Pulitzer committee gave its benediction? And “Life of Pi” soon after it came out? And...and.
“It’s about the Great Migration,” she said. Ummm...okay....something about famine? Manifest destiny? Uh.....
So I finally read it. Forget that it’s an astoundingly compelling read. It’s...about the 20th century...the century I just lived through a good chunk of and...it’s news to me. How did I not know this? How did I live through the ‘60s--even, so I thought, working on behalf of civil rights--and not understand this huge and prolonged change going on in my country? How did I not know all this? I am not proud of this embarrassing ignorance, but I am stunned by it. How did I not know?
I would be even more embarrassed if I felt I was alone in my ignorance. But I get the feeling that a lot of (white) people share it. At least I can console myself that the book is referred to frequently as an “untold story.”
The movement of black Americans from South to North was “great” and a “migration,” but don’t picture some mass orchestrated event. There were no long columns of refugees moving along roads, no tents, no offers of relief supplies. This, as Wilkerson shows, was not a single migration except in retrospect. It was, rather, hundreds, thousands, ultimately six million individual migrations undertaken with the possibility of unthinkable danger, unimaginable courage. Wilkerson’s decision to follow the lives of three people who made the decision and the journey makes the book highly readable and the story immediately tangible. How could I not have read this book?
Thank you, Isabel Wilkerson and thank you Erica. And, by the way, Erica, what’s next on your list?