THE BOOK: The great migration saw southern blacks move to cities on the east coast, midwest and west coast from 1915 to 1970. Six million people uprooted themselves from family and friends in the Jim Crow South to find a better way of life in the north and west.
Wilkerson masterfully weaves history and narrative in this complex horror story that every American should know about. Told through the experiences of three people who journeyed far from home under terrible circumstances, the facts of being Black in the South are laid bare: painful to read, hard to believe, but resoundingly real.
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney’s life changed the morning a group of white men, including the boss man, came knocking on her door, waking her and scaring her children. Threatening her with a chain, they demanded the whereabouts of Joe Lee, her husband George’s cousin. They claimed Lee stole some turkeys. When they found him, they beat him half to death and put him in jail with his blood-soaked clothes sticking to what was left of his flesh. After that, fearing that violence could just as soon be visited upon them, George told Ida Mae they were packing up and heading north.
George Swanson Starling was a citrus picker in Wildwood, Florida. He was also a labor leader who led his team of pickers to ask for more money per bushel when the white buyers were short of men to do the job. When George received whispered warnings that the buyers were coming for him, he made the life-altering decision to head North, and was gone within twenty-four hours of hearing the news.
Robert Joseph Pershing Foster aspired to be a doctor. After chasing a medical degree throughout the south, he joined the Army, where his commanding officer assured him that he would be Chief of Surgery at his Salzburg, Germany posting. Robert began to believe that all his hard work had finally begun to pay off. High hopes were quickly dashed when the white doctors in Germany refused to take orders from a Black man. Determined to rise above the laws that restrained him, he decided to head for California when his tour of duty was over.
Because we learn about the circumstances of Blacks during this time period from real people, the reader becomes emotionally involved and begins to to care about thses characters. This personal connection is key to helping readers of all colors truly understand and think about how they were treated and what that means about who we, as a country are, who support the laws and policies that cruelly suppress people based onthe color of their skin. It is not a pretty picture.
THE FOOD: Hush puppies were served at Ida Mae’s birthday party. Looking for recipes, I couldn’t help but notice how many people raved about their love for them.
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
¾ C yellow cornmeal
½ C all-purpose flour
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ C buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 scallions, finely chopped
Heat 2 inches of oil in a large, deep cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven to 365º F.
Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and a good pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Beat in the buttermilk and eggs until combined, then stir in the melted butter and scallions to make a thick batter.
In two batches, drop the batter by the tablespoonful into the hot oil. Fry, turning once, until crisp and golden, about 3 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels; season immediately with salt.