Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Warmth of Other Suns: Mandatory reading for every American (Wilkerson)

There's one episode from Isabel Wilkerson's stunning work "The Warmth of Other Suns" that illustrates the root of why this tome belongs on the reading list of every person that professes to follow Jesus.  Buried in the endnotes is a synopsis from a 1906 Raleigh Evening Times article that describe a courthouse that used a different bible for black and white witness.  The article relates the presiding judge's admonition to the sheriff when the wrong Bible was used to swear someone in--his advice to prevent future gaffes was to have a separate place where the "black" bible is kept to prevent future mixing.

This common practice in the Jim Crow south stunned me--how tragic for the Christian faith to think that the story of a savior that bucked against societal norms and laws--who gave his life for all men and women--who died for "jew and gentile" who broke bread with the dredges of society, who loved and healed the lepers, who ministered to prostitutes and implored his followers that true religion was to love the orphaned and widowed--how tragic that this radical good news was distorted, ruined and reduced to a reference tool to subjugate another race.

All of this reminds me of the Reverend Dr. Lockridge's famous 1976 sermon "That's My King."  In this era of #NOTMYlatestinjustice, Lockridge, who left Texas for San Diego in the early 50's (the final wave of the great migration), gives an affirmative message of who this King was who made ONE bible--ONE message for ALL men.

The fact that I can place Dr. Lockridge's move from being a Pastor in Texas to one at Calvary Baptist in San Diego amidst the final wave of the 'great migration' is a simple way that my eyes had been opened after reading only 77 pages of this 500 pages work.  Indeed, Wilkerson makes sure to point out the myriad modern day icons who were products of their parents' or grandparents' brave exodus from the South (e.g., Diana Ross, Tupac, Bill Russell and Huey Newton).

The strength of Warmth is due to the exhaustive research readily apparent in the more than 500 page history of the African-american exodus from Jim Crow south.  Wilkerson's narrative focuses on three people whose stories represent the plight of millions during the "great migration":  Ida May Gladney, a housewife/reluctant cotton picker who fled Mississippi in the 1930s to settle in Chicago; George Starling, a partially college educated orange picker/social justice agitator who hightailed it out of Florida in the 40s for New York; and Robert Foster, a sleighted Army surgeon who left a stifling backwoods Louisiana town in the 1950s for gold in California.  Their narratives emerge as Wilkerson weaves them into the larger history of the millions of African-Americans who gave up everything to begin their lives anew in urban centers across the United States.

Before the publication of Warmth some seven years ago, there had never been a definitive and comprehensive analysis (at least in the ethnographic sense) of these waves of migration that began following the reconstruction era as Jim Crow set in.  Wilkerson's book is significant because of the short historical space between 2017 and the enslavement (through legal means or socio-economic means) of a race of people.  Let the following statement sink in:

Just 77 years ago, in 1/3 of the US, killing blacks was not a crime.

Most of us have relatives at least who were young kids 77 years ago!  It's often far too easy to dismiss a movement today--#blacklivesmatter comes to mind.  Now while I don't agree with ever single tenet of that movement, reading this book opened my eyes to the historical headspace from which its leaders and followers are coming.  While the idea of the de facto legalized murder of a race seems a preposterously distant one to me today, it probably doesn't to many of the African-Americans in this country.  Because they have family members STILL ALIVE who endured it.  They know the history.

Much of the conflict in today's society would at least be softened if both sides took the time to know one another's history--their backstory.  Wilkerson has presented a gift to Americans--she has captured a fundamental piece of our history that before only existed buried in the margins of dusty newspapers and crumbling, fading memories of aging octogenarians.  By weaving the personal with the historic she has brought to life the brave flight of millions who sought a better life only to find roadblocks, but who fought on--hoping to give their children and grandchildren a better chance or at the very least the chance to bloom.

While were on the subject of dark periods in US history, check out this documentary on a very dark period in the 1930s when an estimated 1 million americans of mexican descent were forcibly removed from their homes and 'repatriated' to Mexico (at least 60% of these men and women were American citizens)! NPR article on "Repatriation"

For further reading:
 New Yorker Review of "The Warmth of Other Suns" 
 Author's Page
The Lynching of Claude Neal

My notes:

5 invisible language
7 hyphens
10 people who might not have been
11 first step without asking
21 lighter skin = better economic prospects
22  like all things beautiful
31  Colored parking spaces into the 1950s
33  Case system =a prison for all
37  reconstruction effects with sharecropping contrast
38  Plessy v. Ferguson
38  Stripping away of liberties following reconstruction era
39  Every four days someone was hanged or burned alive
40  Jim Crow laws
41  great quote on anti Jim Crow
43  both hostility and migration was driven by a new generation that didn't know slavery
45-6  beautiful writing on accents
45  white and colored bibles
48  divisive nature of Jim Crow
50  unfair childhood as preparation for caste system of Jim Crow
54  share cropping just another form of slavery--no transparency
58  Florida was one of the most repressive states
59  FL, TX, MS were the first to put in the caste system
61  FDR fails America with lack of intervention in Neal Mariana case
85  historical source of white/black wealth disparity
96  Link between sharecropping and northern business interests
117 'sometimes you have to stoop to conquer'
120 Clement-Dubois conflict at Atlanta University
131 1943 Detroit riots start of the shift to the use of the riot as an urban resistance tool
135 the taste of freedom in the North changes people
139 War make Florida black labor indispensable
152 prevalence of debt peonage into the 1940s
157 killing blacks was not a crime 76 years ago
160-1 WWI served as a trigger for the Great Migration, whose trickle started with 1890's Jim Crow
163  3 methods that the South used stem GM: economic blockages (tariffs), suppression of the information flow, perversion of the legal/justice system
175  to stay or go and 'let Jim Crow win'
179  Southern blacks as refugees--traversing long distances
186  3 celebs from Monroe who were part of GM
191  Civil war railway laid the foundation for the GM
200-4 unofficial travel guides: lack of safe stops traveling across country served as an impediment to movement
233 two LA 44 original settlers were black (in 1781)
240 slaves worked away for 2.5 years in Texas after the Emanciptation Proclamation was over, not realizing that they were free (Juneteenth day)
243  sister cities part in the GM
247  slaves 1st arrived in NY in the 1600s with the Dutch West India Company
248  Civil war draft riots help drive blacks toward Harlem utnil it became majority black
255  with integration, the rejection of black businesses by blacks who can use white businesses now instead
266  Jesse Owens: couldn't shake hands with Hitler but couldn't with US president either
269  Chicago settled by a black fur trader in 1779: Jean Baptiste Point du Sable
273  For most of US history, riots were actually carried out by disaffected white groups
277  blacks paid more in rent than whites, so they more people living in their apartments--they also had 'rent parties'
290  Northern blacks were hard on migrant blacks--in many cases harder than whites.  These migrant blacks might not know how to act 'appropriately' but 'their children will'
304  1st time voting in Chicago, blacks were courted by the democrats
320  Florida was the most violent state in the South
324-6  Early NAACP work
330  Robert was friends with Ray Charles--who himself was also a product of the GM
333  'slave market' for domestic help in the 1940s.  Lowest economic rung gathering on corners for white women to drive by and select
348  one of Ray charles' kids was named after Robert
375  Ciero riots
376  Neighborhoods didn't fail because blacks moved in but were already failing
387  King's northern campaign was a reaction to the GM
389  King reveals very hardcore but veiled racism in the North
398  hyper segregation
417  difference between immigrant whites and southern blacks

Ida Mae

Dr. Robert Foster

George Starling

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