In the second half of the 20th century, we saw so many mass movements of people that our sensibilities to the subject have been dulled. You know how inconvenient it is when you suddenly take a quick three-day trip and on the road realize that you forgot this and forgot that. Imagine pulling up stakes and leaving everything behind and going into a new situation – no resources, frequently alone and badly battered by the causes that caused you to move.
While we usually associate such mass movement of peoples with Asia and Africa, there was a major migration here in the United States but most of the country paid very little if any attention to it. Between 1920 and the mid-1970’s about six billion black Americans partook in a mass movement out of the South and move into areas of the North and Midwest parts of the country where they would be closer to the freedom promised them by the Declaration of Independence. Isabel Wilkerson, a professor of journalism at Boston University, has just written a much-needed book on the subject. It is entitled, “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.” The book is painful reading. It documents not only the daily humiliations of African Americans in the South, but also the continuation of agonizing violence. Someone was hanged or burned alive on average every four days in the first quarter of the 20th century. Upcoming lynches were publicized in the newspapers and were festive events where thousands of white citizens would gather to watch and celebrate. May God forgive us. The author lists a number of well-known Americans whose lives would have been very different if their parents and grandparents had not left the oppression of the South. This list includes Michelle Obama, Diana Ross, Bill Cosby, Condoleezza Rice and Oprah Winfrey.
The unimaginable horror of slavery went on in this country for two hundred years and massive oppression of black Americans continued from the end of the Civil War until the early 1960’s. Let’s not kid ourselves, however. The results of those sinful years are very much with us, and people of good will should do everything possible to improve race relations today and to atone for our sins of the past.