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Making a Way out of No Way

Making a Way out of No Way: African American Women and the Second Great Migration

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    Making a Way out of No Way
    Book Description:

    The Second Great Migration, the movement of African Americans between the South and the North that began in the early 1940s and tapered off in the late 1960s, transformed America. This migration of approximately five million people helped improve the financial prospects of black Americans, who, in the next generation, moved increasingly into the middle class.

    Over seven years, Lisa Krissoff Boehm gathered oral histories with women migrants and their children, two groups largely overlooked in the story of this event. She also utilized existing oral histories with migrants and southerners in leading archives. In extended excerpts from the oral histories, and in thoughtful scholarly analysis of the voices, this book offers a unique window into African American women's history.

    These rich oral histories reveal much that is surprising. Although the Jim Crow South presented persistent dangers, the women retained warm memories of southern childhoods. Notwithstanding the burgeoning war industry, most women found themselves left out of industrial work. The North offered its own institutionalized racism; the region was not the promised land. Additionally, these African American women juggled work and family long before such battles became a staple of mainstream discussion. In the face of challenges, the women who share their tales here crafted lives of great meaning from the limited options available, making a way out of no way.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-350-1
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. A Note on Style
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Biographical Sketches
    (pp. xi-1)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-17)

    This book showcases and analyzes recently collected oral histories with forty African American women, most of whom were born in the southern United States in the first part of the twentieth century and then migrated to northern cities in the movement known as the Second Great Migration, 1940–1970. The Second Great Migration brought approximately five million black migrants to northern cities, leaving these cities, and the migrants themselves, forever transformed.¹ The book presents an analysis of the life stories of women migrants, with a focus on their reasons for moving and their thoughts on how work shaped their lives....

  6. CHAPTER ONE Memories of the Southern Childhood
    (pp. 19-43)

    Resilience, the capability of a human being to continue on in the face of great adversity, is a word that applies to each and every woman interviewed for this book. Resilience is an often undervalued attribute; resilience is a form of courage, but it requires a continuity of spirit that is not necessarily a component of all types of bravery. A soldier might gather up his personal fortitude, take a deep breath, and run headlong into danger. Resilience entails not only a momentary conviction of spirit, but a continued devotion to persisting in the face of adversity, a commitment to...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Guiding Influences and the Younger Years
    (pp. 45-77)

    I was born in Mississippi. They called it DeSoto County. March 9. That is the third month and ninth day and the year 1916. I had four brothers and there were six girls. I was the seventh child of the family and my mother and father was named Jones Richardson and Carrie Richardson. They are both deceased. My mother died when she was seventy-nine in ’59. My father died in 1984 in the same house. In July of ’59 I saw my mother’s death. I went to her and I told her. I am the seventh child and they say...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Move North
    (pp. 79-107)

    I’m Alverrine Parker. I spell my name with two r’s. I don’t know why, but my dad wanted to make it difficult. I was born in Columbus, Mississippi, March 14, 1936. My father had two jobs—he worked as a bellhop at the Gilmore Hotel, and then he did cleaning at a bank. Merchants and Farmers Bank. My mother did work at one time at a bakery at night to help out with money.

    My dad moved to Muskegon Heights, Michigan, to escape prejudice and to try to find a better living for his family. He must’ve had friends, because...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Encountering the City
    (pp. 109-137)

    I was born in Georgia, February 19, 1938. I am one out of ten—I’m the fifth child. My mother, who was married to him, my father, had five girls. And then she divorced. And she had got married again, and she had two boys, and then two girls and a boy, I think, at the end. And I was the fifth child, and I was there with the four older ones, and I was there with the five younger ones. And out of all of us girls to leave home, I think I was the last to leave home....

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Work of a Domestic
    (pp. 139-173)

    I was born on a farm in Alabama—Cuba, Alabama, and I lived there until I was nineteen years old. [Woods was born in 1913.] I worked in York, Alabama, which was about eight miles from my home, before I ever left there the first time. But it is a small town—wasn’t very much work there for me any longer, so I figured it was time for me to move on to something better. I lived in East Chicago, Indiana, for three years. And I went back home and stayed with my father for another two years, and then...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Family Aspects
    (pp. 175-197)

    I was born in Claremont, North Carolina, on August 15, 1924. I was the second child; my sister is four years older than I am. My mother was a homemaker. My father was a brickmaker. My father died when I was about three years old. I do remember him, but I was just three when he died.

    My mother took my sister and I to my grandmother’s. My grandmother had fifteen kids, so we stayed there, and my mother went to another town and got a job working in the home for some wealthy white people. And we stayed with...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Experiences with Other Types of Employment
    (pp. 199-219)

    I was growing up, I went to a school called Cullman High School, from kindergarten to the tenth and eleventh grade. I left Alabama at the early age of, ah, seventeen, eighteen. I went to New York; I spent—I don’t know—it was about six or seven years in New York. I got married, had four kids, and came to Massachusetts here. And I started to work in a coat factory down here on Main Street. Then I got a job at Jefferson Wire and Cable. I went to Jefferson Wire and Cable for about six, seven years. I...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Reflections on the Migration and a Life of Work
    (pp. 221-239)

    In some respects, many migrants never fully left the South. The migrants remained southerners at heart, despite the harsh realities they had endured under Jim Crow. Warm childhood memories persisted, as well as southern cultural practices. But southern ties were not solely a matter of memory or cultural legacy; migrants actively maintained connections with their home region through regular visits. The ties proved so well established that many of the migrants’ children returned to the South to raise their families. The post–civil rights movement South, with its burgeoning economy and invitingly warm weather, attracted African American young adults just...

  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 241-244)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 245-270)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 271-282)
  17. Index
    (pp. 283-297)