Archive for March 11, 2012

Part IV of four-part Q & A with Pulitzer-winner Isabel Wilkerson on Her Book, “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration”

March 11, 2012 4 comments

This is the final installment of my four-part Q&A with author Isabel Wilkerson about her book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.  Here, she explains in more detail some of the things that distinguished the migration of African-Americans from the South to all points North and West and why it was an event of such momentous impact in the nation’s history.  Wilkerson speaks April 12 in my burg, Omaha, Neb., and I for one plan to be there.

Part IV of four-part Q & A with Pulitzer-winner Isabel Wilkerson on her book, “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration”

©by Leo Adam Biga

Published in The Omaha Star

The conclusion of my four-part interview with author Isabel Wilkerson explores some distinguishing features of the the migration experience covered in her book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.

Wilkerson will deliver a free talk about her book and sign copies April 12 at 7 p.m. at Countryside Community Church, 8787 Pacific Street.

LAB: Blacks migrated to the North and West the way immigrants arrived.

IW: “The only way they could be recognized (as citizens) was to leave one part of their own country for another part. That’s why they’re like immigrants but they’re not immigrants. To me, it makes the story even more poignant because they had to do what immigrants had to to do just to become (full) citizens.”

LAB: Resistance to black migrants led to segregated enclaves that still exist. 

IW: “That in and of itself is a tragedy because much of this happened as a result of a complete misunderstanding of who the people were. The people who had arrived in these cities came from different parts of the world but they were all people of the land who had made this great leap of faith, the decision of their lives, and left all that they knew to take this great gamble that life might be better far from home. They landed in these big, forbidding, anonymous cities where their labor was wanted but there wasn’t clarity as what to do with the people.

“All of them were struggling, trying to make a way in this alien place. One group was pitted against the other as if they were direct competition to one another and what one got the other one was losing, and that’s one of the great tragedies of the 20th century, and we are still living with that to this day.”

LAB: Black migrants didn’t think in terms of participating in a movement, but they did.

IW: “It wasn’t a political movement in the formal sense of the word but it had the impact of seeking political asylum or defection, almost in comparison to the Cold War when people tried to get on the other side of the Iron Curtain and had to go to great lengths to do so. This is a similar kind of defection that occurred within the borders of our own country and yet the people who were part of it didn’t see themselves as part of any demographic wave, they saw themelves as making a decision for themselves and their families. Ultimately this was about a search for freedom

“I think the fact they would go to such great lengths is an indication of the desire and desperation and hopefulness they had that this next place will be a good place for me, and where things did not turn out as they hoped there’s a bittersweetness to the outcome for some people because they had made this great leap of faith and basically given up everything in order to take a chance on this place that had become a symbol of freedom for them. When it didn’t work out as they had hoped they then had to sort of regroup within their own minds and figure out how can we make this work in spite of the challenges.”

LAB: What about the black migration do we still not appreciate?

IW: “I came to the conclusion we often ask the wrong questions of any migration.

Was it a success or not a success cannot be answered in totality because each individual family would have a different answer to that question. Ultimately a migration is about determining for one’s self how one’s life is going to be and merely by living they are fulfilling the destiny and imperatives of their migration.

“For those who decided they could no longer live with the repression, they opted to  plot out a course of their own choosing, and that is what a migration truly is. By just leaving they are doing the very thing they’re seeking to achieve. The leaving itself is the act of self determination and an act of courage.”

The Omaha Star and The Reader ( are collecting migration stories. If you or a loved one migrated from the South email or call 402-445-4666 to schedule an interview.

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