Over at First Things’s Postmodern Conservative, Carl Scott posted a soul-searching review of Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Scott is quick to point out that he is a conservative professor who has deep reservations about racialism and racial politics. We must take care not to allow skepticism about the current state of play to translate to an ignorance of history. The shame is ours when we minimize the history of a people, especially when that history is also our history. Understanding is a core component of friendship, something we owe our neighbors.
To learn anew the old facts about lynching and such (although, yes, Wilkerson has more of them) in this context, the impact is just far greater. As is the impact of perhaps the most damning sentence in American letters…the most damning judgment of the South ever given:They left.
Wilkerson’s book makes it clear that whatever the particular impact of cotton blights, WWI, the basic reason for the black migration north was simply this: the segregation system got worse and worse from the 1880s on, and simply became unbearable.
A book like Wilkerson’s brings it home that there was a darkness and coldness in the American heart at times that defies all explanation. Whose evil is made starker by its contrast with the founding principles, with the all the various flourishings of freedom in American society. Things like the mad black-power politics that eventually destroyed Detroit, or even things like 90% of American blacks voting this last time for such an obviously badly governing president, become understandable, and even begin to seem trivial.