As long as I’ve book blogging I’ve wanted to feature at least one book for Black History Month. Unfortunately, despite whatever good intentions I might have, each year February comes and goes without me spotlighting something worthy of Black History Month. Well, not this time.
My Black History Month selection is Ira Berlin’s 2010 The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations. I first read about the book last month when I saw it featured in the History Book Club’s catalog. It looked promising so I vowed to someday borrow it from the library. Well, as luck would have it I spied it on the “new books” shelf at my main downtown library. So I grabbed it.
At first I didn’t think I’d like it. The book’s prologue and first chapter contains, in my opinion anyway a great deal of repetition. The first two portions could have easily been edited to about a third of their present length. But at the same time Berlin’s writing flowed surprisingly well. His research shined through as being sharp and insightful, and his attempt to weave past and present together into a meta-narrative which, truth be told, was reasonably effective in showing the reader where Berlin wants to take his 400 year chronicle of black history and more importantly, why.
While many readers are familiar with the transatlantic slave trade or “Middle Passage”, few including myself know anything of the “Second Middle Passage” or the forced relocation of slaves from the southern coastal Atlantic region to the interior or “Deep South”. Berlin spends an entire chapter detailing this forgotten story of American history. Lastly roughly 60 years from Independence to the Civil War, close to a million African-Americans were transported to Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Alabama and other locations. I consider myself fairly well read and I’ve never heard of this particular migration.
Migration is a recurring theme in Berlin’s book. He devotes and entire chapter of black migration to the cities of the North and West, when close to three million African Americans fled the rural south to cities like Detroit, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Oakland. Interestingly enough, while he credits two World Wars, a boll weevil infestation and the network of trains and interstate bus lines as driving forces in this migration, nowhere does he mention the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 which according to some historians, was a huge factor in displacing rural blacks from the region.
Berlin concludes book with a chapter devoted to yet another Middle Passage. This passage is more recent and perhaps a less tragic one. Over the last few decades immigrants have arrived from Caribbean nations like Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, as well as a diverse host of African countries such as Liberia, Sudan, Nigeria and Kenya. Some members of the latest diaspora are refugees while some are middle and upper middle class professionals. But their experience is much different from America’s native-born African-American population. Tensions, as well as enrichments are naturally bound to occur.
I liked Berlin’s book. Perhaps more importantly, I’m really happy I finally got a book on here for Black History Month.