Abiding Courage: African American Migrant Women and the East Bay Community

Abiding Courage: African American Migrant Women and the East Bay Community

Abiding Courage: African American Migrant Women and the East Bay Community

Abiding Courage: African American Migrant Women and the East Bay Community

Synopsis

This study examines the migrated and community-building efforts of African-American women who moved from the South to the East Bay during World War II. Drawing on fifty oral interviews with former migrants, it details who these women were, how they experienced the migration, and how they used their southern cultural traditions to keep their families together and establish new communities in the East Bay.

Excerpt

Elmgrove, Longleaf, Tupelo, Laurel, Pelican, Utility, Canton, Cordova. To the unknowing, these place- names conjure up images of small towns settled on yellow, dusty crossroads or spread out along sun-hardened streets. Farms come to mind. So do hot, humid summers. The very names coax up the mercury and warn off those who cannot patiently bear heat. But paired with childhood, these names suggest comfort, and they sound like places where children were loved and safe. Here, in the region of the imagination, the young trundle through cool, raw-scented grass among a twilight assembly of fireflies and cicadas, as parents and neighbors sit easily together on their wide and solid front porches.

The black women who grew up in these towns between 1900 and 1940, and who left during the World War II years--we win call them "migrant women"--recall their childhoods with a terrible sweetness. Terrible because each of these places was home to Jim Crow, and sweet because much of life took place outside of humiliating assertions of white supremacy. In each town, parents, neighbors, clergy, and teachers pieced their varied skills and talents into a continually evolving, transgenerational quilt that sheltered the young from racial hatred, provided the basis for personal and collective identity, and engendered a deeply satisfying sense of security and belonging.

But Jim Crow could not be completely avoided. Its forms differed from place to place, but its purpose never varied: to institutionalize the inferior status of African Americans and protect white supremacy. Implemented by the politically and economically powerful, but eagerly embraced by . . .

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