Posted on 12 June 2011 Sunday

I didn’t think I’d be gone so long, but the reality of what was in front of me took a while to sit in. I ended the school  year on 31 May which meant  closing down and cleaning and collecting items. Actually, I had to leave prior to that so that I could be in Mexico for my son’s wedding on 30 May, so I had to scramble to close things out!

While most people fret long flights, I love the chance to get lost in a good book.  I was so glad this same son and soon to be daughter in law had given me a Nook just this past Christmas and I loaded it with books from my public library. The first I read, the only one I read was The Warmth of Other Suns  by Isabel Wilkerson . I guess it could be seen as a rather odd selection to read going to Mexico as I usually try to match my selection in some way to my destination and in an odd way, I think I did.

 I might not have read Warmth had I not spent last summer in the Delta and deepened my interest in the Civil Rights movement, life in the Delta, the Great Migration, the Great Flood, the Blues and the Mississippi River itself. Warmth details the lives of Blacks who migrated from the south and into cities in California, Illinois, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin. While three families are highlighted, the experiences of many are documented in the book. In reading, I began to wonder what in particular happened to take my mother’s family from Grenada, MS to Chicago, Detroit and Toledo. What was the specific incident that caused family members to, one or two at a time pack their bags and leave? I used to know who left first and why my grandmother moved to Toledo, but now, I don’t remember. I know that whatever my mother experienced in the north and in the south embittered her so deeply that she found it easier to blame Blacks for their conditions than Whites. She knew that the one thing she couldn’t get from her situation was the one thing her children needed: a good education. I wish I could ask her more.

Wilkerson doesn’t mention that Chicago is considered to be the northern most city of the Delta. She details how it became what probably continues to be the most racist city in the US, how all ethnic groups migrating to that city for jobs from all over the world fared and how Black women found themselves at the bottom of the hiring pool.  Wilkerson tells this story by sticking with facts and avoiding incendiary language.  She was able to paint a picture that showed the transition from how it was to how it is. Things have changed drastically, but discrimination still colors too much of life in America.

So, I’m sitting in Mexico knowing the situations that surrounded my parents’ lives but,  I can only imagine the details: the barriers, the verbal or physical attacks and the heartaches they experienced but I’ll never know because they never brought their personal history, their private stories, into their children’s’ lives, save the way they made sure all three of their children graduated college. And I’m sitting there with this son who speaks Spanish so well his friends assume he grew up speaking it and I’m looking at his White, Black, Latino and Middle Eastern friends who traveled this distance for this wedding and I think about how indeed things have changed.

However, this is the same son who had his experiences in small college town IN and said that was nothing compared to what he’s experienced in Chicago. The difference for my son in this racist city? My relatives, their neighbors and thousands of others paved the way in the streets, corporations, board rooms and restaurants for him. This young generation often hasn’t been told the stories of the past and when they experience a different face of racism, they’re going to react by denying a corporation their experience or the business their dollar. Do we say here that the more things change the more they stay the same?

I do say that this books is worth reading, all 640 pages.  It’s not just about Mississippi and Chicago. There are matters out West and you’d be surprised to find where Jim Crow was more treacherous than in Mississippi. The language is quite accessible to students and I imagine a few will read it. I’m looking forward to discussing it with Vasilly and Doret and hope you’ll pick up a copy and join us! Wilkerson wrote the book to document this massive movement of Americans that is missing from American history and in doing so, she gave me part of a personal story, as I think she did for many Americans. And, I read it in Mexico.

I’m not finished with information about Mississippi, so I’ll see you later this week.

Posted in: Me Being Me