The Jungle was a novel that I was required to read in high school and I have loved it ever since. However, it wasn’t until I began doing the research about the Bledsoe sisters series that I began to understand the tie that the striving Lithuanian family had with the African Americans of The Great Migration.
Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906 to complain about the working conditions that existed in the meat-packing houses in Chicago in the first part of the twentieth century. Sinclair’s hero, Jurgis Rudkus, have very little influence on the horrific conditions that he—and his large family—have to live in and work in. Only by grabbing his own power through politics can Jurgis come to full American citizenship. Until he understands the role he plays in politics, he is always on the fringes of society, even after all of his family is taken from him by death, starvation and prostitution.
In the first part of the twentieth century in the South, African Americans were required to pay taxes and yet could not play a role in the political process. This powerlessness was another factor that drove people to leave the South for still-difficult lives in the North. Over the trajectory of The Great Migration (1915-1970), African Americans gradually gained a foothold in political power as they were able to vote and influence elections. And once African Americans in the South saw the possibilities for political power, they began to demand for more—right where they lived.
The Jungle reminds me of the determination of European immigrants. Their participation provided a road map for African Americans of the Great Migration to step forward and demand to be a part of the political process in their own country—a legacy that lasts into the present day.
Have you ever read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle?
I can’t remember if I did. But I have been attracted to stories about immigrants and their struggles from the time I could read a chapter book.
I was listening to an interview on the radio this week about folks who remember the poll tax or had to recite the Constitution to be allowed to register. Now I need to go back and find it. A woman practiced for weeks to be able to recite it and she did it. What a scene. I about stood up in my car and yelled, “Yes!” when her name was put in the registry.
The Jungle is unforgettable. If you ever want to read it–because it is all about immigrants and their struggles–don’t eat anything while you are reading it. It is the book that led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. but the stuff in that book made Congress move fast to pass the act within month. Congress has never acted so fast before or since.
There were so many silly tests. The one the Rep. John Lewis always cites is: how many bubbles can this bar of soap make? I mean really. At least with the Constitution you have a fighting chance. And good for her! Thanks for stopping by.