June Hirsh, Emmett Till and George Swanson

I asked June Hirsh, a P4P regular, key organizer of our book club, and long time progressive independent activist to share some of her thoughts about the book.

 

June Hirsh at the NYC Independence Party Spring Chairman's Reception, June 2014

June Hirsh at the NYC Independence Party Spring Chairman’s Reception, June 2014

“It’s both brutal and beautiful in the telling of the history of Jim Crow and of the Southern Black migration. An intimate and painful, sad and poignant account of the lives of 3 ordinary people – their friends and families, whose stories represent millions of blacks who migrated, with courage and dignity, unheralded at the time, making this historic move out of fear, anger, vicious racism, desperation, a yearning for a decent and meaningful life – and for it – changed everything.

 

I found the book, heartrending, frightening, horrifying, educational. As a progressive, and an activist, you would think that I had this history seared into my mind and heart. But – not so. Until reading this book, I hadn’t had a full understanding of what Jim Crow actually was. And as this intertwined history unfolded, it became alive and real to me.

 

Just remembering how and what I knew of Emmett Till can give you a sense of this. Yes, I knew he was brutally murdered. I remember it as an unspeakable act. It was a horrific piece of news, but also removed from me – an isolated event.  Now, through this book, really experiencing what happened, what it meant in the fabric of the migration of blacks – a time in our country where blacks were systematically and arbitrarily trampled upon, seen, treated and legislated as less than human, transformed my experience. The account of Emmett Till is an example.

 

Emmett Till, was a child, 14 years old, visiting his aunts and grandmother in the south in the summertime, sent down south by his family, so that he could have a sense of his roots, and have the loving, intimate, honest southern black ways of being, which was missing for southern blacks who migrated to the anonymity and harshness of the north.

 

He was told by his family to be careful how you relate to white people – it’s different than in the north. One needs to understand that Emmett was brought up in the north, by no means a place where blacks were treated as equal, but by and large, not a place where violence towards blacks was a pervasive, and daily occurrence as was the racism of Jim Crow.

 

Who knows what really happened? An innocent gesture, an “uppity” child? What we do know is that Emmett Till was horribly murdered, his body mutilated beyond recognition. At his funeral, where thousands came to pay their respects, Emmett’s mother kept the casket open so that everyone, could see what happened to her child – to “everyone’s child”. Not one of the killers paid for the crime. There were thousands of children mothers, aunts, and uncles, fathers whose stories mirror Emmett Till’s – more. And millions more who suffered all levels of indignities and degrading treatment under in the name of Jim Crow.  I am including a video about Emmett Till that is from the PBS documentary “Eyes on the Prize”.

 

 

 

In The Warmth of Other Suns, every poem, every phrase quoted in the book deserves to be in a book by itself. Each chapter tells an entire story – and together each adds richness to the other.  That said, for me, “Harlem 1996″ in PART FIVE: Aftermath captures the whole book. George Swanson Starling. The way George evolves – paints the picture of a race of people stunted and denied every freedom, yet holding on to their dignity and humanity as best they could, growing and giving in whatever way they could and for others being destroyed by the deadliness of it all.  If you are short on time before our call on Sunday, read this section of the book.

And we continue to build…”

 

***

Politics for the People

Book Club Conversation with Isabel Wilkerson

Sunday, July 13th at 7 pm EST

The call in number is (805) 399-1200 and the passcode is 767775#.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Warren Liebesman

     /  July 10, 2014

    What a wonderful (thoughtful, beautifully written) statement, June! Thanks you,
    Warren

    Reply
  2. Jo Coskie

     /  July 10, 2014

    June,
    Thanks so much for your insightful comments and for the video about
    Emmett Till, which I watched with tears in my eyes. I had the same
    reaction as you that there was so much about the Jim Crow South that
    I had not known until having read this book. Isabel Wilkerson has opened our eyes to the extent of the injustices suffered by African
    Americans and has honored the memory of the people killed during
    those years.

    Reply

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