“What Negroes Sometimes Call the Old Country”

I’M JUST rounding the corner on a piece that I’m working on for the L.A. Times about Isabel Wilkerson’s harrowing but beautiful book, The Warmth of Other Suns” about the many waves of the Great Migration of the U.S.’s black population out of the American South between 1919 and 1970. Among the destinations, Los Angeles was popular — it’s own, golden promised land — but one that was just as imperfect as any other upon closer inspection. Any African American will find some echo of their own family’s story stowed away in this volume which took her fifteen years to write, more than 1,000 interviews culled down to three symbolic portraits.

This post’s title comes from James Baldwin, but Wilkerson’s book title is a line of poet/novelist Richard Wright, whom Wilkerson calls “the bard of the Great Migration” since so much of his work touched on this between-two-worlds feeling. The quote:

I was leaving the South
To fling myself into the unknown . . . .
I was taking a part of the South
To transplant in alien soil
To see if it could grow differently,,
If if could drink of new and cool rains,
Bend in strange winds,
Respond to the warmth of other suns
An perhaps, to bloom.

photo: Passenger Terminal, Florida, via NYT


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