On a beautiful October day we took the ferry from Cape Cod to Martha’s Vineyard. We hopped a bus to Vineyard Haven and strolled the streets of the quaint harbor village. We ate lunch at the lovely Atlantic restaurant with a view of the bay. Then we boarded another bus headed for Edgar Town to see the gingerbread houses. Three older ladies got on the bus ahead of us. The bus had seats on the two sides and places to stand for overflow. Mike and I sat down beside the three ladies toward the front of the bus. We were tuned into all the sights as the bus moved along. We stopped to pick up another passenger. She was an older black lady walking haltingly with a cane. As she hobbled onto the bus the woman sitting next to Mike stood up and moved further down to a seat across the aisle. She said, “This lady needs to have a seat as close to the front as possible.” The black woman sat down beside Mike and began to shuffle through her purse looking for her bus pass. Her hands were bandaged with Velcro stays leaving her fingers free. She was having a difficult time managing the purse with her ailing hands. The bus driver was huffing with disdain. I wanted to go slap him. The woman finally produced the pass and one of the ladies carried it up to the driver to scan. She brought it back and Mike helped her put it in a pocket and zip her purse back up. We moved on down the road. Because I was reading, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” this event stuck to me.
“This is the way humans should treat each other,” I said to myself. It is wonderful that things have changed. 50 years ago, in the Jim Crow south, the woman would not have been allowed to sit by us, let alone get any consideration for her needs. I bought the book in the airport as we were flying off to Cape Cod and have enjoyed every page. It is about the great migration of blacks from the South to the North from 1917 through 1970. I lived part of this history but mostly in the Utah bubble where we rarely saw a black person. I really didn’t have an understanding of all that was going on.
Isabel Wilkerson takes 3 people living in the South during this migration period and writes alternating parts of their stories from their childhood on to old age and death. Historical events are told as they relate to the lives of these people: a woman married to a sharecropper in Mississippi, a fruit picker living in Florida and a black man educated to be a Doctor. All of them eventually migrate north with millions of other black people during this time. The Doctor went to California, the sharecropper family to Chicago and the fruit picker to New York. The author wove a fascinating picture of what was going on in all of these areas of the migration through the eyes of people I began to like and understand.
My favorite books are about real people, their joys and struggles. This is a powerful book that touched and educated me about a people and a time that I have not thought much about. 4 stars