Both the author, Eloise Greenfield, and the illustrator, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, came from families that participated in the Great Migration. This movement of American blacks from the South, to the North and West, took place from 1915 to 1970 and involved approximately six million people. The mass movement, a watershed in American history, profoundly changed the cultural and political landscape of the United States.
Many Americans today know about this phenomenal internal migration thanks to The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, the highly praised 2010 book by Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson. [The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, among other prizes. The author won her Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times, making her the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African-American to win for individual reporting.]
In Wilkerson’s book, she tells the true story of three people who made the decision to participate in the Great Migration. Greenfield takes an analogous approach for children, personalizing the story with impressions spoken by migrators of different ages and from different walks of life. Beautiful collage artwork by Gilchrist accompanies each segment.
Some of the adults who are leaving are unhappy:
“Saying good bye to the land
Puts a pain in my heart.
I stand here looking at the green
growing all around me,
and I am sad.”
But others have no regrets, like this woman:
“I can’t wait to get away.
I never want to see this town
Again. Goodbye, town. Goodbye,
Work all day for almost no pay,
Enemy cotton fields, trying
To break my back, my spirit.”
And the children aren’t sure what to think!
“I wonder what it’s like. Anyway,
As long as Mama and Daddy
Are there, I know I’m going
To be happy.”
In a forward, Eloise Greenfield writes about why the South had become unsafe for African Americans and why they felt they had to leave. She notes:
“…when they reached the North, they found that it was far from perfect. They had not escaped racial discrimination. Even so, things were better, and most people stayed in their new cities and worked hard to earn a living and take care of their children.”
Both Greenfield and Gilchrist have won many awards. This lovely book will show you why.
Published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2011
Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages