I have really enjoyed Isabella Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, which I “read” via Robin Miles’ excellent Audible narration. It’s about the Great Migration of black people in the USA from the South to cities in the North and West, from the 20s to the 70s, told mostly via three personal stories in parallel.
This is a huge part of American history that gets very little attention in popular culture, despite the wealth of supporting material due to it being such recent history. It’s full of incredible stories of personal courage and adventure. People escaped awful injustices that should not be forgotten. They were often prevented from leaving rural towns in the South, where they were given no choice but to work hard for little pay, at regular risk of violent assault and death. For many, escaping seems to have been almost as hard as for people escaping the Eastern block during the Soviet era. But, unlike defectors, their escapes were not celebrated in the US.
What’s really forgotten is how hard it was for people to settle once they escaped. They had more opportunities but these were still limited and blacks were initially prevented from living in some neighborhoods or taking many jobs. This is yet another dramatic chapter to peoples’ stories.
New distinctive communities were founded, and they should be celebrated by telling the stories of the people who built them. When I was in New York City over the summer, I found some time to visit Harlem at short notice with my young son. We walked around to get a feel for the place, and tried to join a Harlem Heritage Tour, but none were happening that day. It’s a small organization that I’d love to try again, but I cannot understand why no business has funded a massive tourist destination in Harlem that could be one of the big attractions on the New York CIty Pass along with the Empire State Building, Ellis Island, the Museum of Natural History, etc.