Immediately following the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation most African Americans in the south were subject to what we today would call a campaign of terror. Any southern black could be subject to beating, harassment, hanging, mutilation, and economic abuse. Attacks could come with or without warning and as we know today only a handful of terror attacks can create widespread fear and panic. Witness the consequences of 9/11 or the national psyche of Israel to observe the psychological repercussions. As a result of severe abuse, forced labor, and economic subjugation that regularly crossed from illegal withholding of pay (re-enslavement) to outright immorality. African Americans fled the south en masse to save their lives. Isabel Wilkerson documents the lives of these internal migrants, focusing on three individuals, in particular, as they participate in The Great Migration that lasted from the immediate post-Civil War period to 1970. Along the way she delivers the back story for the ethnic cleansing of blacks from the south, busts some myths about the quality of those that left, and places these migrants within the scope of others who fled economic or political persecution, e.g., the Irish, Eastern Europeans, Italians. Because of the color of the their skin, however, blacks in the north would wait more than five generations to see any real progress in their lot; a stark contrast to their white immigrant counterparts. I’m ashamed about what I didn’t know about conditions in the south after the Civil War. This book should be required reading for every American.
African American Literature, Book Reviews, FOUR STARS ****, History, Immigration, Memoir/Biography, NON FICTION