After Ellington read the award-winning book “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson, who will give the keynote address at the Opening General Session of APHA’s 142nd Annual Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans, she set out to uncover the history of her own family’s migration from the American South.
The book, which brings to life the migration of black Americans out of the South during the early and mid 20th century, compelled Ellington to visit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, where she began digging into her past. She shared her discovery with the inaugural APHA Book Club, which is reading Wilkerson’s book and encouraging readers to share their own migration stories for a chance to meet Wilkerson in person. Here is Ellington’s story in her own words:
“My first read of "The Warmth of Other Suns" inspired a trip to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. In a digital database, I found 1920 and 1940 U.S. Census records about my family migration story. Among the data were the names, ages, occupations and addresses of my great-grandparents and grandparents (as well as their neighbors) in their migration from South Carolina to New York City. In searching family albums I also uncovered a snapshot of my great-grandparents under a magnolia tree in South Carolina. My uncle painted a portrait of my great-grandmother who continues to be a well-remembered midwife and so I made this keepsake collage.”
The APHA Book Club is collecting personal family migration stories through Sept. 30 and one lucky storyteller will be chosen to meet Wilkerson after the Opening General Session in New Orleans on Sunday, Nov. 16. The winning storyteller must be registered for the Annual Meeting, and the stories will be open to the public and may be shared on this blog.
“Wilkerson’s book is so compelling that it’s hard not to wonder about your own family’s story — about the movements and migrations that helped shape who you are today,” said Michele Late, one of the organizers of the APHA Book Club. “We feel excited and privileged that so many readers are sharing their unique stories with us.”
“The Warmth of Other Suns” inspired Ruth Greenslade to submit her story to the book club. Greenslade’s story is much different from the history that Wilkerson chronicles, but it illustrates the wide diversity of migration stories that have come to represent the American experience. Greenslade writes in her own words:
“My family has German and English roots, not African-American, and my ancestors migrated from Europe, not the South, but they migrated just the same. My English ancestors arrived in the 1630s in Massachusetts with the Puritans. They came to establish ‘a city upon a hill,’ an example of Christian love and unity. On the other side of my family, I am a fourth generation German-American. My mom's grandparents came to Illinois as teenagers in the early 1900s and my mom herself is of 100 percent German descent. I am proud of both stories of my heritage and the courage it took those before me to be immigrants.”
Visit the APHA Book Club to submit your family’s migration story and read conversations from the book club’s first meeting, which was held via Facebook in August. The deadline for story submissions is Sept. 30. And don’t forget to sign up to join the APHA Book Club and share photos of yourself reading Wilkerson’s book on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #APHAReads.