Fathers and The Great Migration

Cover of "Joe Turner's Come and Gone (Aug...
Cover via Amazon

This Father’s Day, I am reminded about how Oprah Winfrey would speak on her show about men who had a dream for their families. Her utterance reminds me that fathers were the ones who started the movement from the South to the North in the first part of the twentieth century.

This makes sense. Men were the ones who had the leeway to leave, live in uncomfortable boarding houses, and save their money until they could afford to send for their families to live in the cold North in search of better opportunities. August Wilson shows how this scenario worked in his play, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, which takes place in a testosterone- packed boardinghouse in Pittsburgh in the 1910’s.

In The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson lists some of the reasons the men left the South in the post World War I period as gathered by the Chicago Commission on Race Relations:

Some of my people were here

Persuaded by friends

For better wages

To better my conditions

Better living

More work; came on visit and stayed

Wife persuaded me

To get away from the South

The patriarch of my characters, John Bledsoe, was a man who longed to leave the South for all of these reasons and then some: to protect the virtue and safety of his five daughters. He never was able to save up enough money to do so, so he had to rely and trust on other men in his daughters’ lives who, one by one, helped them to better opportunities. In the end, his dream for his family was fulfilled.

For all fathers who sacrifice so that their children have better: thank you!

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