Isabel Wilkerson, author of THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS, focuses on the stories of three specific black Americans who took this action:
- Ida Mae Brandon Gladney took action to leave Mississippi and settle in Chicago
- George Swanson Starling took action to leave Florida and settle in New York
- Robert Joseph Pershing Foster took action to leave Louisiana and settle in Los Angeles.
The research that Wilkerson conducts in order to present the pushes and the pulls associated with why blacks left the south is epic.
The big push to leave had everything to do with the indignity of living under Jim Crow laws that protected the practices of white people -- from segregation to abusive work environments, to lynchings. Pershing Foster knew firsthand, about the indignity of living under Jim Crow. A man who would eventually become a medical doctor with a thriving practice in Los Angeles knew before the migration while growing up in Louisiana how he had to swallow his rage in order to survive Jim Crow. The need to do bide his time, and to do whatever it took to survive the oppressive eye of his white bosses ... in the streets, in the fields, in his dreams:
"Sometimes" he said, "you have to stoop to conquer" (page 117).
The big pull of the migration contained the stories of more enlightened northern and western states, where Jim Crow was reputed to be less overt and dignity for blacks reputed to be more attainable. Wilkerson presents fascinating research that documents migrants as having an unparalleled will to survive. Though they didn't cross bodies of water or actual borders separating nations, the hardships they endured by making this move caused them to do whatever it took to survive -- including working longer hours, taking multiple jobs, and taking jobs that others didn't want.
As an immigrant myself, I get that to my bones.
And I get the value of:
- delaying gratification
- swallowing the rage, and yes,
- stooping to conquer.