The Great Migration: Journey To The North, by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
This is not a very good book. Or at least this is not a book that I have any particular reason to care about personally. For those who are not aware, the Great Migration is the rather generic and somewhat overblown name given for the movement of blacks from the South to the West and North during the early 20th century in search of less restrictive lives as well as greater economic opportunities than could be found as sharecroppers. While it was not only blacks who sought to escape from rural poverty (indeed, the pull factor of industries and cities for the rural poor is a phenomenon that transcends any ethnic or racial boundaries, and has been the case now for at least the last 300 years if not longer, with much longer historical antecedents going back far earlier than that), this book focuses on the black experience of leaving one’s home in the South and traveling (mostly but not entirely by train) to the North. This book is certainly of interest if the imagined feelings and experiences of these migrants is of personal or ancestral interest, as the text itself is not particularly excellent as a piece of literature on its own merits.
Admittedly, this book was a bit disappointing to me mainly because of the nature of the material and its approach. As an adult reader with no appreciable amount of African-American heritage, this book’s limp childish poetry was not particularly inspiring to me personally. I would have appreciated at least some kind of primary documentation of what it was like for such migrants to hear their own words about the opportunities they sought away from the South, or their fears and longings, or the friends they made along the way, or the networks of information and support that allowed them to travel and to get on their feet in a new area where they were unfamiliar with the places they traveled to and the ways of those areas. Instead, this book presents an imagined view of those things in poetry from the author. At least the illustrations are good, and the pictures provide a great deal of the value of this book in putting a human face on the experiences of leaving one’s home for better opportunity, something that is relatable to those who are not black, thankfully.