Other Suns and the Illusion of History
It was impossible to drive across the country without thinking of Isabel Wilkerson's masterpiece The Warmth of Other Suns, a stunning telling of the story of the Great Migration.
Wilkerson weaves numerous threads together (including those of her own life) and shifts effortlessly between close focus and the larger picture, but the book revolves around the stories of Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Starling, and Pershing Foster, as each of them makes their own personal journeys. The Great Migration was an unprecedented shift of population in this country and, as Wilkerson says, "it was the first big step the nation's servant class ever took without asking."
I won't try to capture the entire book, but I will share some of what hit me when reading it.
Some were simple factoids. The first Jim Crow law? Passed in Massachusetts.
Some of it echoes our present. Foster's parents were educators, and the picture of black schooling in the South is brutal. For instance, on the matter of financing schools:
"The money allocated to the colored children is spent on the education of the white children," a local school superintendent in Louisiana said bluntly. "We have twice as many colored children of school age as we have white, and we use their money. Colored children are mighty profitable to us."
And perhaps most striking and effective because of Wilkerson's thoroughness, is the ordinary everydayness of the racism these people lived through.
Travel always makes me think of the book because of Foster's story. At one point, this educated physician sets out to drive cross country, heading out West to create a new life, and the simple CURMUDGUCATION: Other Suns and the Illusion of History: