warmth_other_suns_211This is the last book review in conjunction with Black History Month and even though Black History Month ended yesterday, I am honored to review Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns.”

In keeping with the common thread throughout my February blog posts, I found it poignant that this book dealt with the Great Migration. Wilkerson explores the 55 year journey of African Americans from 1915 to 1970, as they abandoned the cotton fields of the Jim Crow south in search of greater opportunity to the North. It was this movement which led to the birth of the Harlem Renaissance, the founding of Bronzeville in Chicago aka “The Black Metropolis.”
“The Warmth of Other Suns” is Isabel Wilkerson’s first book. For those familiar with my previous blog posts, The Harlem Renaissance and black writers in general, the book’s title is borrowed from the Richard Wright’s work. Wright himself fled Jim Crow Mississippi in the 1920s seeking greater opportunities which would never have been realized had he stayed in the south.
The book was based on more than a thousand interviews, but written in a captivating novel-like style that made me find it hard to think of as non-fiction while I read it. At 622 pages, it’s not a quick read, but certainly well worth the time I invested in reading it. Given the climate for non-fiction works, Wilkerson’s book is Blue Rose rising from a crack in the concrete. The book earned her the respect and recognition of scholars and an interview with Oprah, which lends to its credibility and merit.
Wilkerson gives us another outlook on exactly what The Great Migration meant and its significance to US History. This often ignored facet of American History takes a backseat to the arrival of European immigrants as they made their way to the US via Ellis Island, but is also vitally important. However, in today’s society, those black migrants who braved the journey north are viewed as a more modern version of those same Europeans who flooded America’s shores in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Wilkerson states in her work that what was a common trait amongst them was their resolve and heroic determination to deal with what life gave them in hopes of a better future. It was then no surprise that according to census data, blacks who left the South were far more educated than those who stayed. This helped to create and strengthen the black Middle Class as black migrants had higher employment rates, than their Northern-born cousins, and more stable families, indicated by lower divorce rates and fewer children born outside of marriage.
Wilkerson says, the well-known “migrant advantage” has worked historically for Americans of all colors.
The book gives the stories of real people who lived through this era and gives the reader a sense of kinship to them. I felt as though I were a part of the history as it unfolded. We follow the journey of three blacks from the south, the story of each unfolding in a different decade of the movement and each detailing a different destination. This storytelling style allowed her to explore the migration during its span of 60 years and the various destinations of blacks after their departure of the south.
Ms. Wilkerson is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist—for her work at The New York Times in 1994—who currently teaches journalism classes at Boston University. With this book she has written a well-researched and authentic account of a neglected piece of our culture. The Great Migration is not only an important component in our history as a nation and especially blacks, but also an important part of Wilkerson’s own backstory as her parents left the South to settle in Washington D.C. which had its own impact on her life.
I highly recommend for any off my followers to read this book as it is an investment in our personal banks of historical knowledge and something worthy of passing along to generations to come.
Review of David Russell’s “Inanimates”.


Be sure to check out NABJ and support black media!

Be sure to check out NABJ and support black media!

This is the final Black History Month blog post for 2013! The weekly posts were so well received that this is likely to become an annual occurrence, so thank you to all of you who liked the posts!I will be looking at blacks in journalism.

Black journalists were largely only hired by black presses, which were small and only serviced the black community. Mainstream presses were no different than any other industry and continuously refused to hire blacks.

When the Civil Rights Movement gained national interest during the 1960s, as a large number of American inner cities became the sites of urban riots, black journalists who were employed by black presses were finally able to gain employment with the mainstream media.

The newsrooms of mainstream news sources were nearly all white back in 1968. The National Commission on Civil Disorders warned that America was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.” The bias was reflected with impunity in the mainstream news media. At this time, blacks held less than 1% of newsroom jobs across the country.

Unfortunately, the black presses suffered from the integration it had long championed and as a result, many black presses ceased publication altogether. The once prosperous major black presses simply couldn’t compete with the extensive coverage provided by mainstream television networks and major newspapers, as well as the higher salaries they provided their newly hired black journalists.

According to a Huffington Post article, “The Chicago Defender’s weekly circulation fell from a high of 257,000 in 1945 to 33,000 by 1970. The Pittsburgh Courier shrunk in the same period from a high of 202,000 to 20,000.”

These developments as well as the time frame they occurred, tie into the Great Migration which has been a prevalent theme in the Black History Month posts I’ve written this year. However, in this instance we find that while looking for better opportunities, many black journalists inadvertently caused black news sources to suffer and virtually die. The impact this had on the black community was devastating not only because it eliminated a large number of jobs, but also because we as a community were no longer in a position to report on those things which affect our day to day lives and to accurately relay facts without the stereotypical slant that mainstream media is infamous for.

In recent years, there appears to be a reverse migration of sorts which has many black journalists returning to their roots as it was. A good portion of these moves were facilitated by layoffs and buyouts within the mainstream media outlets, but others were fueled by the black journalists own disillusionment with mainstream media and/or their desire to focus on issues which have a greater impact upon the black community.

Regardless of the reasons, black journalists are turning the tide and switching paths from black presses to the mainstream media to plot their course back home. Many mainstream outlets are even creating black oriented ventures like NBC’s The Griot, which I personally subscribe to and find quite informative as well as Huffington Post’s Black Voices.

However, on the flip side of things, this reverse migration has garnered attention and new talent to black-oriented media, but also has a negative impact on the diversification of mainstream media.  I suppose the laws of physics are hard at work here, in that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

What started as a trickle has since turned into a flood of movement.

According to an article in the Huffington Post titled, “Black Journalists Quitting Mainstream Outlets, Returning To Black Press, “Sylvester Monroe resigned in 2006 as Sunday national editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and, two months later, joined the staff of Ebony magazine. In 2008 the renowned byline of Jack E. White, the first black columnist at Time magazine, began to regularly appear on The Root, where Lynette Clemetson, formerly of The New York Times and Newsweek, was managing editor. By March of this year when Constance C. R. White, once an influential New York Times fashion writer, was named editor in chief of Essence, the trickle had swelled into a river of prominent African-American journalists streaming to black-oriented media. The names of veterans like Lynette Holloway and E. R. Shipp, formerly of The New York Times; Teresa Wiltz, Natalie Hopkinson, and Michael Cottman, all of The Washington Post; Joel Dreyfuss, formerly of Fortune and PC Magazine, and Amy DuBois Barnett of Harper’s Bazaar and Teen People, are turning up in places like Ebony, Jet, and Essence; at, a division of Reach Media, Inc.; and at The Root, the online site spearheaded by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr. and published by The Washington Post Company.”

It is held that at one time blacks come into journalism driven by a passion to accurately report on issues in their communities, which explains the return to black press.  They could perhaps use the skills and experience they had gained while employed with mainstream media and apply it to black oriented media and improve its deteriorated reputation and standing.

As Black History Month 2013 comes to an end, I encourage everyone to take the time to expand their minds and broaden their horizons with a look into news sources outside of the mainstream, so that you may form a more informed opinion on things that occur within our country and around the world. Support black news sources and the men and women who work within the industry, but as always take whatever you receive with a grain of salt and an open mind.