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622 pages, Hardcover
First published September 7, 2010
With the benefit of hindsight, the century between Reconstruction and the end of the Great Migration perhaps may be seen as a necessary stage of upheaval. It was a transition from an era when one race owned another; to an era when the dominant class gave up ownership but kept control over the people it once had owned, at all costs, using violence even; to the eventual acceptance of the servant caste into the mainstream.Whoa Wilkerson, this is a chilling statement. Shades of this mindset are still plentiful in today's culture.
"I was leaving the South to fling myself into the unknown. I was taking a part of the South to transplant in alien soil, to see if it could grow differently, if it could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns, and, perhaps, to bloom."The beautiful, elegiac poem expresses regret one had to leave some of one’s roots behind in order to ‘transplant’ elsewhere. Wilkerson interviewed about 1,200 people and did subsidiary research to collect & corroborate enough impressions and remembrances that she felt comfortable in this period and could supply details others forgot.
“In the North, Myrdal wrote, ‘almost everybody is against discrimination in general, but, at the same time, almost everybody practices discrimination in his own personal affairs’—that is, by not allowing blacks into unions or clubhouses, certain jobs, and white neighborhoods, indeed, avoiding social interaction overall.”Considering African Americans apparently occupied approximately 25% of the population in these two cities, I’d have to agree that the discrimination, in Boston at least, is subtle, hidden, denied since most neighborhoods until recently were clearly segregated.
“Now you put you some butter and some buttermilk on it,” she says, “and it make you want to hurt yourself.”I’ve never heard that phrase before, but it sure covers a number of addictive activities.
“He remembered one night in particular. He was wearing a black mohair suit he ordered specifically for the occasion from the tailor who dressed Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra. He wore a black tie with a burgundy stripe, a white tab-collar shirt, gold cuff links, black shoes, black silk socks, and a white handkerchief with his initials, RPF, embroidered in silver.”Elsewhere he mentions this black mohair suit jacket has a silk lining in scarlet. How can one begrudge a man who is so enthusiastic in his compositions? There is such joy there.
"It was spite," George would say of the decisions he made at that moment in his life…"That’s why I preach today, Do not do spite," he said. "Spite does not pay. It goes around and misses the object that you aim [at] and goes back and zaps you. And you’re the one who pays for it."A truer lesson was never told.
They believed with all that was in them that they’re better off for having made the Migration, that they may have made many mistakes in their lives, but leaving the South was not one of them.
The South, totalitarian and unyielding, was at that very moment succeeding at what white Harlem leaders were so desperately trying to do, that is, controlling the movements of blacks by controlling the minds of whites. (Page 250-251)
All the while newspapers were giving black violence top billing. The most breathless outrage reserved for any rumor of black male indiscretion toward a white woman all but guaranteeing a lynching. Sheriff’s deputies mysteriously found themselves unable to prevent the abduction of a black suspect from a jailhouse cell.This is not from the book, but I'm including the following link as a point of interest that shows the number of lynchings by State, both black and white, from 1882-1968:
Newspapers alerted newspapers to the time and place of an upcoming lynching. In spectacles that sometime went on for hours black men and women were routinely tortured and mutilated then hanged or burned alive all before festive crowds as of many as several thousand white citizens, children in tow hoisted on their fathers’ shoulders to get a better view.
Fifteen thousand men, women, and children gathered to watch eighteen year old Jessie Washington as he was burned alive in Waco, Texas in May 1916. The crowd chanted “Burn, burn, burn,” as Washington was lowered into the flames. One father holding his son on his shoulders wanted to make sure his toddler saw it.
“My son can’t learn too young,” the father said.
Across the south someone was hanged or burned alive every four days 1889 to 1929 according to the 1933 book, The Tragedy of Lynching, for such alleged crimes as "stealing hogs, horse-stealing, poisoning mules, jumping labor contract, suspected of killing cattle, boastful remarks," or "trying to act like a white person." Sixty-six were killed after being accused of "insult to a white person." One was killed for stealing seventy-five cents.
Like the cotton growing in the field violence had become so much a part of the landscape that “perhaps most of the southern black population had witnessed a lynching in their own communities or knew people who had," wrote the historian Herbert Shapiro. "All blacks lived with the reality that no blacks were completely safe from lynching."(pg 39)