tv Book TV CSPAN November 28, 2010 7:45pm-9:00pm EST
suns." >> thank you for coming to the discussion today. we have michele norris and isabel wilkerson. i'm going to do a brief introduction and i will let them go. i will leave time for questions. probably about 2:30 we'll stop and you can ask questions. in the introduction to the "grace of silence" she writes she began the project in 2009 because she became convinced the unprecedented conversation about race about taking place across the country in wake of barack obama's historic presidential campaign and his ascension to office. from this project, they released painful family secrets from the father shooting less than two weeks after the discharge from service and world war ii to the grandmother's pedaling pancake
mix. michele norris traveled from his childhood home in minneapolis to her father's childhood home in the deep south. she was choicen in 2009 as journalist of the year, and dupont columbia award for the 2008 vote. she's the host of "all things considered" on national public radio, and has been on "meet the press" and the "chris matthews show." she has wrote for the chicago tribune, and "los angeles times." the prize winning author isabel wilkerson's first book. the migration of history, from the south and north to west from 1950 to 1970 through the stories of three people and their families. drawing on archive materials and conducting more than 1200
interview, "the warmth of other sons" from their difficult beginning in the south to their hopes to a better life in chicago, harlem, and los angeles. their stories are immigrants that came to america and chronicled a major shift in american life and all parts of the country. wilkerson won the feature prize for her work as chicago bureau chief for the "new york times," making her the first african-american woman to win the pulitzer prize, and first african-american to win for reporting. she's currently a professor at the university. i'm going to start by asking some questions. the first question that i wanted to ask was how each of you came to work on your project. how you discovered your topic. >> i probably have been working on this book for as long as i've been alive because i grew up as the daughter of people who were
part of the great migration. as is michele norris. and the majority of african-americans that you might ever meet in the north, northwest, and west. i grew up around people who had migrated from georgia, carolinas, virginia to washington, d.c., grew up with the music, the language, the folk ways, the food, and no one -- no one ever talked about it as being the great migration. no one said i am someone who came up in the great migration. yet, it was everywhere. and i later as a journalist in interviewing people all over the country became more aware of how huge it was. because whenever you went, whether you are in los angeles or in chicago or detroit, there were always references to the south. everywhere that you went. it all became together for me. i wondered why was there in grapes of wrath for the huge migration that had gone on for most of the 20th century.
that's what i set out to do. not being a novelist, i wrote it as nonfiction. so it took 15 years of interviewing, 1200 people, it took 15 years. if this book were human being, it would be in high school and dating. [laughter] >> i had a chance to meet out of the 1200, three of the amazing protagonist, who stories tell the three major streams. i'm part of the east coast stream, and michele norris, as we learn, is part of the central stream from the -- from alabama, mississippi, tennessee, up to the midwest. and it's -- that's the reason why i decided to do it. >> i -- if you look at the cover of my book, it says two words, a memoir, and that is a surprising to me as anything in this
process. because it's an accidental memoir. it's not the book that i set out to write. i actually intended to write a book that looked at how americans talk and think about race in the wake of the election of barack obama. i wanted to write a book of essays that would principally be about other people. you know, how other people talk, and how other people think. i tried to listen to a hidden conversation in this country, based on some work that i had done on national public radio in a serious of conversation that steve binsky and i did. when i turned the frequency to pick you the hidden conversation in lots of different places, i started to pick up static on the dial in my own family. i started to hear things in my family that i'd never heard before. what i think happened is older people in the wake of the election of barack obama sort of
exhaled. they saw something that they never thought they'd see in their lifetime. you know, you talk about the warmth of other sons. for my parents and my grandparents and that generation to dream that a man of color would have been in the white house would be like reaching up and trying to touch the sun. when that happened, the stories game out. the people that i thought i knew so well had locked away certain parts of their history, purposely, to make sure that they could move forward to protect themselves, but i realized it was mainly to protect me, to protect my sisters, to protect my cousins. they stopped talking about very painful things, indignities, mistreatment, in my family's case, violence, because they wanted our path forward to be clear. >> why did your own families leave the south for the north? >> very good question.
that was one the reasons that i set out to do the book. because my participates never talked about it, as with michele norris. this generation was in some ways an misunderstanding of the generation. they grew up in incredible odds, they were in many ways locked in the system. i describe the great migration as is defection from a calf system which could not last and ultimately ended violently. ultimately, these people were needed to be -- i felt their stories needed to be heard and told. and they were not talking. one reason why the story hadn't been told, because the people were not talking. they were not talking for many reasons. >> very selective. >> one, it was just too painful. when they left, they left for good. they did not look back. some people changed their names. one the characters in the book no longed wanted to be known by
the name he'd grown up with. some people melted into the new world, didn't look back. and they started a new. they turned a panel and acted as if whatever had happened before had not happened. their children were raised in a whole new environment without knowledge of what had gone before them or how they got there. one the main questions that i want to know how did i get here? how is the majority of the african-american in the north, midwest, and west can trace their routes to some very specific part of the south. it's no accident that michele norris' father was from alabama and ended up in the midwest. i know he went to boston. i find it so inspiring. it was not lost souls. these people were making the decision, a decision of their lives to leave the only place they known for a place they haven't seen, not knowing what the future held. many african-americans, as is the case for many americans, couldn't even exist because i
couldn't have existed. and michele norris, i think is correct, would not have been -- my parents to get to the end of your question, sorry, you get us started. my mother migrated from rome, georgia to washington, d.c. my father migrated in a different decade from southern virginia to washington, d.c. they were from families where the people had had -- their parents had some education. they themselves had education. but they could not use it in the cast system in which they were growing up. they decided to go to a place where they thought they could. they happened to meet there, they got married. had there been no great migration, i don't know who it would be. but it wouldn't be me. the same goes for you as well. they were seeking that. i think the idea of a kind of political asylum that the people were speaking is the kind of thing that it's a dint way -- different way of what happened with the migration that occurred
within the borders of our own country. within the borders of our own country, there's an immigrant experience that was not unlike that of people coming across atlantic and cirrus. we have so much more in common. these people came up under incredible oddses just to make the decision to leave. my goal was to try to understand what were they up against? how did they make the decision to leave? and that the reader would be able to put him or herself in the mindset of these individuals and be able to say to themselves, what would i have done if i were living in a cast system in which it was against the law for a black person and a white person to simply play checkers together? that is astounding that someone set that down as a law and in courthouses across the country, there's a black bible and white bible. that's astounding. this is not that long ago.
how much was lost on both sides? how many black people, how many white people were derived to get to know the people they might have had something in common with? because of the cast system that we were under. that was the reason. >> in my family's case, i learned through the reporting of this book exactly why any father and his brothers left. i had a different experience. they didn't look back in telling the stories, but they remained feathered to birmingham. i went back to birmingham every summer. i may have been slowly writing and collecting. my father did me a favor by making sure that i knew his birmingham. i didn't know it was the place where he was also shot by a white police officer. but i spent a lot of time in birmingham. that's what makes his journey forth so surprising to me in so many ways. i knew that they moved to chicago ultimately. they all settled in chicago.
he had five brothers. they were all incredibly hansom men. which you will see if you read the actual book. there's pictures inside. i knew they moved to chicago looking for better work. you will see how handsome they are in the pictures. they use to take pictures. even though they worked in blue collar jobs, my father and brothers or teachers, they would go to the portrait studio and dress up and look like the nickelson brothers and send those pictures back home. those pictures would say we are doing already. they serve as magnets. people went through the picture and say they are doing okay. i want to get up north. >> little did they know? >> right. what i didn't know, here's your postal uniform. which was good work. >> hard work. >> hard work but good work. and it's honorable work.
they weren't just running to something, but from something. in my father's case, running from his life. he stood up to the police officer when he was returned from war. he was part of the cohort of black veterans that returned to the country as changed men. they had worn a military uniform, they are participated in the fight of the democracy, when they came back, they wanted a piece of that. this is before the power to the people marchs, they wanted jobs, respect, and they wanted to vote. and they were unable to do so. they were met with a white wall of resistance. and my father, the mild mannered postal worker stood up to the police officer. remember, this is 1946 birmingham alabama. for a black man to stand up to a white police officer was to invite a special kind of trouble. the police officer's gun
discharged and grazed the side of his leg. he had to get out of birmingham very quickly after that. the rest of the brothers had to get out of birmingham. they couldn't stay. carrying the norris name at that point became a bit of a risk. there were consequences though, that i didn't understand when they moved north that i understand in the writing of this book. they had great opportunities when they moved north. they had jobs. they could use the g.i. bill in the north that they couldn't in the south. even though the sons moved north and came back and visited, they left behind parents who continue to age, who's homes continue to age, who's health continued to deteriorate. what i realed in the letters and interviews that i did, that my grandparents who gave birth to the six strong handsome sons were left alone in the later part of their lives because their sons had moved north and felt like they couldn't come
back. the more you understand the migration, you see the benefits and see there were also great cost. >> michele norris, your mother is a fourth generation minnesotaian, how did your mother and fathers experience, how did they meet? what did she teach you about life isn't in the north? since she was born and raised in minnesota. >> my mother, her family was the only black family in the town of alexandria. she and my father met when her brother worked at the post office. : ther and i was eight, you know, and loved minnesota and left the sort of tolerant community. and i grew up in an integrated community and i thought that that's just the way that life was and minnesota, that there was a sort of level of tolerance that i didn't see or experience in birmingham.
what i realized when these stories started to spell out from my family was that the sort of easy integration i took for granted was not always present and even their community. my family's or blockbusters, so when my father left chicago and most north to minneapolis, that meant they were the first black family to purchase a home in the south side of minneapolis on that particular block. and the people that on the new, the parents of my friends were very jolly to my parents when they first moved in. most of the families got up and left when we moved into the neighborhood, and i only learned this from my mother later on because again, she was protecting me, but the stories i share with people and talking about this, i realized how strong they were also help coming and how they sometimes used humor to help them get by in a situation that could have crushed them. when everybody moved out and they were trying to sell the houses next to the black family, my mother or i could have a
little fun with this. [laughter] and what she would do is when the prospective buyers would come to look at the house directly next door to hours, she would send my sisters out in the yard to play. they were very clear they were going to be moving next to a black family. and if that didn't work she would walk outside herself and she was very pregnant with me, and so when she tells the story she talks about how they go inside the house and we got the right moment and she would say to herself showtime. [laughter] .. , so there was the part of him who was about appearance and one of the things that struck me is you talk about appearance. you talk about when you went on vacation and you're father wanted to make sure that i can't remember how you said it but
that you were better than the coca-cola american family, and isabel, you talk about a lot, too hall appearance is important. talk about that in your book about a parent's being important for african-americans of thatnke leneration. >> i think working on the book helped me to assure us better. [laughter]cause i was >> iphone isabel a really long time and she is always a dresseh [inaudible]ayab >> it is a lot of the assumption made by the assumption is if e ey didn't go to school the dau to value education, they didn't work hard and to get your pointk about working hard office good strong sturdy reliable honorable work and my parents doing the same thing. my mother had been a teacher and my father was a civil engineer. he had been a tuskegee airman. this group that migrates and generation to the people has
been misunderstood for so long which is one of the things i wanted to come across but appearances were crucial and one of them-- in the story of a man named dr. robert joseph foster in my book is the story of a surgeon who had been a surgeon in the army during the korean war. he got out of the army and found out that he could not have-- practice surgery in his own hometown of monroe louisiana, not terribly far from here and he decided that he was going to -- then he had anticipated on a course in monroe louisiana through the country of texas, a large country into itself and on through the western states to get to california which was his vision of the american dream. but it was more perilous than he thought and it turned out that he could not after getting past taxes and even past the eastern
section of new mexico, he could not find a place that would rent him a motel room. that meant that he had to try for three of the huge western states through the mountains, through the desert at night by himself and he wasn't a good driver. his friends say it was a miracle he made it through the desert but that he made it at all because he was such a terrible driver. he had to go alone and at a certain point you have to wonder whether he made the right decision but he gets the idea of how that generation is so important is that before he would go in, to try to get a room, he was very aware of what he was up against even if he thought he was in the free land of the west so he made a big effort to calm his hair to make sure he was wearing a tie and it brought out his sport coat and made sure that he was not wrinkled from the right. he went to this great deal of effort before going into ask for a room and this was well past
the border of what was considered to be jim crow at that time and he still cannot get a room and he recounted the story to me and he said i have got over 3000 times as to what i might have done and he will-- there was nothing he could have done. i attempted to re-create that journey with my own parents and i couldn't make it as far as he had. at a certain point we were driving through the desert. it was night and we were going on hairpin turns in the mountains in arizona. we had, i was trying to follow it to the letter and even now, those stretches of land are very spread out. you can go for many dozens of miles without a single settlement. you have no light except your headlights. it is nonfiction so i wanted to be able to create for the reader what does it feel like to have your finger swell from having gripped the wheel for so long? what did if you like to have your eyes grow heavy from the lack of sleep that they began today? what was it like for him to have
to push through in spite of all of that through the darkness knowing he had been rejected in his new land that he had chosen for himself and in fact brag to all the people in monroe louisiana about so i wanted to re-create that. we made it as far as numa arizona. my parents said i was beginning to veer from the road, had rented a buick lead the way and he said if you have seen a buick roadmap-- but i rented a buick and we got to this part where i was veering off the road and my parents said we must stop the car. they had been through jim crow and they had to go through the experience of not knowing whether they would be able to stop and having to gather up, pack all the food in my-- they might possibly need all the i.c.e. and water you might need if your radiator went out and make sure you had a spare tire working, all of this effort they had to go through for a simple drive. my parents have been through
that so they said to me as i was veering off the road, stopped the car. we have been through this before ourselves. if you won't stop, let us out. [laughter] so we stopped in yuma arizona and i felt very disheartened because he is not have that choice. it shows us how very far we have come as a country, that i could not even really full-- fully re-create it. my parents said look, we have been through it and then there and done that, let's stop. i remember as i was reading it i wrote in the margins he did this without a cell phone. >> without a cell phone. [laughter] >> i won't leave my house to go down the street without my phone. >> he was driving through the desert with no cell phone. >> he probably couldn't get service there any way. >> probably. [laughter] >> now, when you talk about the
appearances, the reason i spent so much time on it in the book is because as i look back with wisdom i started to understand my parents a little bit more. i just always thought they were typed a. and that they kept the garden beautifully that we had to shovel snow before anybody else in the neighborhood shoveled snow and i felt that was sort of a work ethic and i now realize everything they did in the way they ordered their steps was a statement. they were sending a statement. our yard is taking care of. thank you very much. they would dress in a certain way because they were asking for respect. they were sartorial activists in some way and a way that they dressed in the way that they demanded that we dress. i didn't include this in the book but one of the things i discovered and i want to mention this because you talked about the burdens on the other side. when women of color would dress to go into town in birmingham for instance you didn't go into town without gloves.
you always had gloves on. you always wear dress. the men wore hats and i'm not going to tell you how old are you on but well into the period of people weren't doing that people of color still did that when they went to the business district in birmingham and what i found in trying to find a police officer who shot my father, i was able to talk to people of that generation who at that point would have lived on the other side of the color line in one of the things they talk to me about was having to dress a certain way because all the black folks were dressed so fine. so they felt like the whole point was to rise above the black folks so even if they wanted to go into town and just wear like a simple-- they couldn't because they had to prove that they were one step above so there were burdens on both sides. living on the other side and enforcing that in trying to decide if you could say hello to someone and if there would be a sanction for that. could you call that person mr. or mrs. eke as if you did
you are suspect on the other side of the color line. there were prizes to be paid for that as well. that is why i view it as a cast because they cast is something that holds people fixed in a place and that means no one can move even once outside of the line dataset for them. the cast, the mold that is set for them and it is artificial by definition and could not last forever because a cast, if you have a cast on a bone you can't wait to get it off because it is not a natural way for human beings to live. >> now, to be honest, what you see sometimes in kids today in a different way. all that bling bling is sometimes an effort to save i have worse, and i am expressing my words in a gigantic shame that has a big golden encrusted cross but it is in some way saying i have a value.
i want you to see me, this is who i am. >> michelle, one of the most interesting chapters for me was your capture on aunt jemima. i'm wondering if he could talk a little bit about that, about your grandmother who played aunt jemima? >> first of all, if you use bank cake mix and if you use and jemima pancake mix, and jemima today looks like girlfriend. she looks like she shopped at macy's. she has a pearls. she looks like she is on the church council. what i discovered again in a period from one of my uncles quite by accident and a casual conversation is that my grandmother had worked for a time as an itinerant aunt jemima. she had traveled throughout the midwest. she dressed up in a headscarf and a hoop skirt selling pancake mix at a time when convenience
cooking was not the norm. add water and stir was sort of knew at that time. my mother was so angry that my uncle talked about this. she did not like this period and i couldn't let it go. and what i discovered is that my grandmother had earned a good deal of money doing this and that aunt jemima was all across the country. there was one right here in texas. texas was a big state so she only had one one state and sometimes she worked in oklahoma. what i discovered in my grandmother's case, i had newspaper clippings of her work under the headline and jemima's coming to town. picture my grandmother and her description of her work. what she said as she would focus on children in these towns because she knew that this was the first time they would ever see a person of color and she wanted them to be left with a good impression. she would talk and a certain way to let them know she was educated in this was very true to me.
i remember this very polished church woman in my life but that rang true because of the kid she was telling us, did you leave the g at the door? could you please finish the work? it is not i am going somewhere, it is i'm going somewhere. that rang true to me but what she did was she worked in her own way because by presenting this image of a hard-working woman, the kings english and when she worked with very different than the aunt jemima you would have encountered if you picked up a newspaper or magazine of that day because aunt jemima been didn't look like aunt jemima now and jemima been spoke with a certain slave fatwa which was supposed to let you know she was uneducated and fairly happy with her lot and what i wound up doing is digging for that story and giving my family a gift and filling out the picture because my mom and her siblings and the older folks in the family hated that story so what i was able to show to
them through research was that grandma did this in her own way. she took a job i could have been demeaning and lifted herself up with her earnings and lifted her people up by serving as a representative. i don't know what kind of-- she made with herself, when she had to tie a headscarf, a do rag on her head. i don't know what that conversation was like but i do know when she talked to newspaper reporters about it, there was not shame in the way she described her work and after hearing something that was very uncomfortable, that gave me great comfort and a good deal of pride. in that chapter, you end up with aunt jemima and ourselves by what we see reflected in the mirror of her history. what did you mean by that? >> what i realize is there are a whole lot of psychology wrapped up in and jemima and that's why aunt jemima looks differently right now, just walk up to a black woman and call her and jemima.
she might look benign but i dare you to do it. [laughter] and yet when i talk to people about it, i did this exercise when i was working on the book. no matter what i was researching i would ask people at the end of the conversation what you think about and jemima? and they would be like what? i will tell you why i'm asking the question in a minute that do me a favor and tell me what you thing. what i realized is that many people, black people have many views on this and many white americans had confiscated views in a different way. i found a woman who runs a restaurant and natchez mississippi if you have ever been there. it is a gigantic and jemima but she is so large that the restaurant is in her hoop skirt. and she too has had a makeover. she has lighter skin and she has a reduction. but the woman who runs the restaurant said i don't
understand why people of color denigrate her. why they don't embrace her. i was like,-- in my community so many of us were raised by women of color who worked in our family and many of us had better relationships with our mammy's than we did with our mamas. and so she said, i don't understand why people don't honor that in some way. is and she yours first? on the other hand i talked to african-american men in birmingham who said and jemima looks like my grandmother and she is the smartest person i know and what bothers me is that the companies do their advertisement and tried to take that image and turn it into something ugly, something that i love so when someone controls your image you don't control who you are. so i realize she is so much more than just an icon. so much deeper than that. >> i loved that story you tell at the end of the chapter about
the white kid in target. do you want to tell that? >> i have young children and my son's favorite food is pancakes. he particularly likes and jemima's pancakes. he likes the syrup bottle. i was arguing with him, can we just by hungry jack's? right now we are making pancakes from scratch because there are only five ingredients anyway. i was at target and a little boy at target, a little caucasian boy asked his mom, who is aunt jemima? and she looked at me. [laughter] with this sort of expectant look on her face like-- i am not going there, but you know after working on this book, i would have a conversation with her. i would actually see at target and talk to her. and jemima is my grandmother and let's talk about this. >> isabel you entered--
interviewed more than 1200 people for your book. i'm curious how you settled on the ida may gladney, robert foster and george starling. >> i started the book with a great deal of urgency because this migration began in 1915, world war i and ended in 1971 essentially the conditions that led to the migration and it in the south and there was no longer the need for this outpouring of people to leave. so that meant there are three generations of people who participated in this directly and i needed to get 6 million of them and i needed to get the messiness i could. i felt this urgency because they were getting up in years and i wanted to be able to tell the story before it was too late. so that meant i had to go to all these places. i went to senior centers in and aarp meetings and catholic mass in los angeles where many people are from louisiana and catholic. i want to baptist churches in new york where everybody was
from south carolina. i went to these little clubs and all the cities that represent the originating states where the people came from. there is a lake charles louisiana club in los angeles. there is a monroe louisiana club in los angeles. there are hundreds as you can imagine texas clubs in los angeles and there are similar clubs in chicago and also in detroit and in new york. i went to all those places to find them. i was doing essentially a casting call and i had this one case where i wanted-- went into a senior center in los angeles and i would go in and i would say i am working on a book about the migration. generally i had a story, general post that i would take to let them know what i was doing. this one place i went to in los angeles, you had to get on the schedule. there were certain days that were better to go than others. if it was bingo day, it wasn't a good day.
if there was a state once that was a good day so i had gone on a good day but i was on the schedule and before me on the schedule was a representative from los angeles county department of aging and he passed out brochures to the seniors who had been gathered there and he said we are getting reports of our seniors being taken advantage of. there are people who are running scams on our seniors. they will ask you all kinds of questions about yourself. they will ask you where you are from, where you were born, when did you come to los angeles? how many children do you have? what did you do for a living? [laughter] and he passed this out and then said next stop isabel wilkerson will be here to talk with you. fortunately many had not been listening because they were focused on the state dinner or they found me to be trustworthy or whatever, i don't know what the reason was that i was able to talk with them. that is what i did for many
months. does kind of a casting call, kind of like the addition and then i narrowed it down to these three on the three were people i needed to have three protagonists, people you have never heard of so you could see yourself in these people and what they had gone through. three people, each of whom would represent one of the three streams of the great migration. one would represent the east coast dream and the other would represent the one in the middle, and then the one obviously near and dear to people in texas because many people had to know people in los angeles or other parts of california because there is a constant back and forth and so i wanted to tell that stream. that was a strain that had been less written about so i need to find three people and i wanted each of them to give a sense of the breadth of the focus of migration. i also needed to have people of different classes because there are great differences gratification even among people who had been in a caste system.
there were cast within cass in the south and i wanted to be able to reflect that. also i needed great characters, people who are open and honest about themselves. you could read it page and know you were reading about item may, or you could read about the inveterate gambler. he was a record store. he was a character unto himself so you would know who you were reading about just by turning the page. people who you could see yourself in and become engaged in. sometimes someone will shout from the back of the rim why are there no pictures in the book? and my editor and i decided simultaneously there should be none because we wanted the reader to be able to see him or herself in these people. the people's photographs because i got the question so much, the photographs are available on my web site and they also surface on the internet is more
interviews have been done. they are not in the book itself because we didn't want readers to be distracted by that. i needed three people who would together tell this story of, up until now the anonymous, beautiful and amazing and courageous people who made the decision of their lives and affected us in so many ways that we are still trying to figure it out. so many famous people are products of this great migration. michelle is a product of this great migration. tony morrison is a product of this great migration. her parents migrated from alabama to ohio where she got the chance to do something that any budding writer would absolutely have to be able to do but she would not have been able to do in alabama which is to go to a public library and take out a book. her parents saw that and they migrated to ohio where she have the opportunity to get exposed to that. august wilson, lorraine
hansberry, richard wright and some of the huge names in literature are products of the great migration and in music motown would not have existed and that is because barry gordy, his parents migrated from georgia to detroit where once he became a grown man he decided he wanted to go into the music industry. he didn't have the money to go out scouting for talent so he looked around him and there was diana ross who was a child of the migration. her parents migrated from alabama. >> alabama was a great source of talent. >> mary wilson and florence ballard, all children of the great migration, rita franklin. her parents came from the south. so many people. created in a styrofoam. it is hard to imagine what culture would be like had there have been no motown and when it comes to jazz. miles davis parents migrated from arkansas to illinois.
he would never have had the opportunity to spend hours upon hours that would have been necessary to hone his genius and become the musician he was at his parents not migrated out of the cotton country of arkansas. polonius monk whose parents migrated when he was five years old from north carolina to harlem where he have the luxury -- this would have never been possible in tobacco country in north carolina to spend hours upon hours to get basic lessons. there would have been no time to do that in the cotton country out in the farmland of, small-town north carolina and john kohl train. john coltrane migrated at 17 from north carolina to philadelphia where believe it or not, he got his first alto sax. where would just be if he had not migrated and been part of the great migration and got the opportunity to go to the school of music in philadelphia?
he practiced so much that he absolutely, the people in his apartment building in philadelphia complained. the nerve of complaining because john kohl train, the man of 12 cities who sang at all hours of the night. all those people would deny up and down to this day they complained about john kohl train playing his alto sax. he played so much that he had to turn to a minister who gave him the keys to the church so he could play to his hearts content. one of the unknown things about this migration or unrecognized things is that he-- a beautiful translation of the southern state and culture from which it derived. in other words, the migration from texas to louisiana, those people are very different. the culture is different. i had to learn to eat all kinds of food that i wasn't accustomed to because the food, the music and language and references were
totally different. the first thing you would get is where are your people from and in los angeles my people were not from the stream that created the los angeles migration experience. my people were from georgia. it was not always easy to go out and interview people so it turns out that miles davis and polonius monkeys to fight over john coltrane, and it turns out that john kohl train always had a special feeling for polonius monk. their people were the same people and this is a permutation that shows me how different the african-american experience is even within our own country. one thing i had to discover i had not heard of was food became a big issue. in chicago, i was exposed to i was on the bus heading with some seniors to a riverboat casino. it is a big day for seniors.
and someone broke out a delicacy that everyone-- there was uproar on the bus and i was wondering what is this thing? it had been brought up from mississippi, direct from the source. it was the good stuff. it was hot headcheese. [laughter] >> with pickled eggs? [laughter] >> i'd never heard of it because the migration stream, we could talk about grits but we weren't exposed to that. what i'm saying is the culture, the people carried the culture with them. they transplanted the cells with them where they went. in some ways they went back to the south and it is a beautiful thing they did so the culture, american culture and are there and-- northern culture and merit of the and south as it was altered by the arrival of these people and we are still living with this. the world and and of its
promise, and we are the primary beneficiaries because we are the children who have the opportunity to grow up in a freer place. at that time, now are reaping is different and there is a reverse migration but at that moment that was a thing they needed to do and they did it for their children. >> we have about 15 minutes left. the question i wanted to ask, you talk about michelle how your book emerged from the conversations about race. i am curious how you feel your book has contributed to the conversations about race that are said and unsaid because you talk a lot about how white people and black people have these conversations sometimes with each other, often not with each other. how do you feel your book will contribute to that conversation? >> i feel it has come full circle. version.t to write a b ..d up writing a book about the conversation of my family and as they travel the country on a 30 plus city book tour i
find myself swimming in the hidden conversation. people often come to hear about my story and wind up telling me there are. on my web site i have a link called your stories where people can actually leave their stories. i wound up writing a book about race but in many ways it is not about race. i captured my racial legacy because of these hidden conversations that suddenly started spilling out in this period of historical and digestion and my family. things just started coming up. but that is the thread, but the broader tapestry is the central question, how well do you really know the people who raised you? how much do you really know of their history? in my case there was this complicated racial legacy that i didn't know about that you know whether it is the depression or the dust bowl or the holocaust or polio epidemic, parents are often very careful about what
they tell their children. if they want their children to soar, they don't put rocks in their pocket on the way out the door. they keep their stories to themselves. i hope that it would spark a conversation and i think it is starting to happen. in some ways, i have decided that there is benefit in having those conversations in trying to capture your history because your history, it is your birthright and even if it is a difficult history it is yours and an incredible gift to take back and have-- pass to your children. you might not want to put rocks in their pockets but it is okay to put pebbles in there because they need to be grounded. they need to know where they came from. in the end, i hope that it has contributed in some small way that people might be interested in their own history. people might pick up the book and learn something, not just about my family but america.
there were big revelations, grandma was aunt jemima. my father was shot. there were smaller revelations that i've learned about the country, little things that painted a bigger picture and i hope when people read the book that they will put it down and want to talk to somebody about it. at family member or a coworker. i hope-- that is my belief. >> i shared with you my grandmother just turned 95 and i am having a hard time now trying to go back and tell her the stories because she doesn't remember a lot. do you have advice for how to get the stories out especially to older people who may not remember? >> isabel i'm sure we'll have advice as well. a couple of things that are really simple. if you want to talk to older people and they don't want to tell you certain stories particularly asked them about the area. you might not be able to go in
the front door but don't go-round to the side doors. if you know they love, i would say the yankees but i'm in the wrong state for that. [laughter] so i will stop now but if you know they love baseball or they love all, think about and educate yourself about the 1950s or the 1960s. asked them about that. what did you wear when you went out on a saturday night? what kind of music were you listening to? bring them into the era and then get them comfortable and maybe those stories will start to come forth. tape it if you can. i have a hard time talking about this because it makes me very sad that my father died in 1988. i worked in radio. i listen to audio all that long and my children will never hear my father's voice because i never recorded it. if you can record the people you love, take the opportunity. you don't have to invest a lot of money. your phones usually have
recording devices on them. take the time to do that. the last thing i would suggest to you, do it over food. [laughter] every time i learned something profound but my family it was always at the table. every time i needed to have a difficult conversation with someone that was not related to me, i would usually introduce food to try to lubricate the commerce haitian. if you have a loved one who loves lemon meringue pie, give them a mile high piece of meringue. if they like the pineapple upside down cake, the part that is burned and crispy on the edge make sure they get a piece of it and that will bring back memories and they don't call it comfort food for nothing. >> i would say that i actually shared a lot of these experiences that michelle had with her own parents. my parents, my mother in particular never talked about her experience in the south and in the process of doing the
research in this book where i'm interviewing people for this, it turns out my own mother was not talking, not talking. she was by far the toughest interview i ever had. she didn't want to talk. who wants to talk about that? she was not going to talk. there are a few references in my book to my family's experience in the migration. every single thing you might see in this book i learned in the course of research, not growing up because my mother did not talk about it. i discovered things about how my uncle had left. the left because he discovered the man he was working for, he found the-- he was working for and decided he was leaving for detroit as for detroit as soon as possible. so i had no idea and the way that i found out some of this was i read every word of this book to my mother and my father had passed away. he did not live to see the publication of this book and that is such a heartrending thing for me because he so
believed in it. i read every word of this book to her and at a certain point i could not read it to her because she kept interrupting. saying all the things she started to talk about. when i was in rome, georgia or what my mother used to do so i found in some ways my hope is that i'm making it okay, by validating these experiences and giving them dignity because they are dignified and incredible things people have done, it will make people more willing to talk about that. in fact one of the places i went in los angeles, i was doing a reading and a father and his daughter showed up and they went -- i signed the book and they told me, we are getting ready to go right now. we are going to sit down and talk right now because maybe this will be an inspiration for doing that. my goal would be that the people that i've written about are not just african-americans who left one place for another. in some ways they left for the same reason and if our forebears
would have ever left any part of this world to be on the land we are now on. michael would be for us to see that we have so much more in common than we have been led to believe. i love it when people come up to me and save my great-grandfathet grandparents came from romania. i love it and that is exactly the goal of all this. my hope would be that it will make everybody want to go back and the oldest person in their family, take a lemon meringue pie. i found that it was quite helpful to get them to describe their recipes. have them cook and then it starts to come out. >> there are actually a crisis in my book where a ida mae from mississippi discovers they are using self rising meal for the cornbread in mississippi and she has connections. it is likely never made it like that before in the old country. a friend who was from italy, a battalion american descent, said
we go through the exact same thing with apostate. so i love the way of getting people to talk often by going where you were not getting resistance. where do they feel comfortable and hoping they will lead you from there. >> i know we have to go to questions for two quick things. if you are trying to talk to people, use your children. mine for a big help to me. i have young children and my mother also did not want to talk about any of this but i couldn't move forward until she got in the full than it took a lot for her to do that. she is incredible and i am so glad that she did. we have learned quite a bit because of that and one of the ways, the kids could ask a question. children are innocent and demanding at the same time and they can get away with asking questions that you never can get away with and i found mom would talk to me through my kids and the last thing i will leave
before we go to questions is if you really do want to capture history you have a wonderful opportunity to do that the day after thanksgiving. if you are vermilya with story corps, a fabulous program, he champions a national holiday, relatively new holiday. it is the day after thanksgiving, a day when a lot of people go to the mall, a lot of us are with family members. you were eating leftovers and watching football. while you are altogether take the opportunity on the national day of listening to listen to the people you love, chronicled their stories and put them away. >> are there questions people want to ask? [applause]
[inaudible] >> there are another migration that is largely invisible. a century ago it was estimated five to 10,000 black people were turning into white achieve case being-- my question comes from reading an account by the first white person to turn himself black which is not john howard griffin that raised. in 1948 in the land of jim crow and he uses the expression you can can't figure behind demand for the exploitation of sharecroppers and make source that isabel recorded. can you explain for the audience but you can't figure behind but the man refers to? >> the question was asked about the concept of passing
african-americans who would pass for white mostly. >> i have discovered about a dozen stories just in the last two weeks and they mainly coming over through this link on my web site where people are e-mailing stories about family members that they discovered half past or people who themselves have passed and want to now reach back and find their history. it is a phenomenon in this country that publicly is greater than the numbers you cited. it probably happened quite often and something that i would love to know more about. in each of these cases, it was a tortured decision to try to figure out how to reclaim family members that reached over to the other side. i would pull out your question a little bit farther and look around the room. look at african-americans, look at what they look like in this country. i mean, the fact is that many of
us are related to many of you. and no one really wants to talk a lot about that but that is sort of the hidden conversation in america. >> my question was basically, obviously your stories-- have you had any experience of trying to tell the stories to younger people, maybe not necessarily younger african-americans but the kids who can't stop texting and can't stop looking on line because this is definitely something that has a lot of resonance with people in the community, the idea of a gration and looking for better pastures. have you had any experience of talking with kids at of that age group? >> our books are fairly new so it takes a while just to get the book and to get them to read it and pass it on but when it comes to migration, there are many people and they "hip-hop
generation" that are descendents of the great migration. snoop doggy dogg, his family migrated from mississippi to los angeles. john combs family migrated from new york so tupac is one of the best-known people of the iconic people of this generation that is a descendent of that migration also from north carolina to new york so i think that it takes time for people to recognize the connection and that is the reason why we want to record history because maybe people are not ready for it now but one day they will be and i have a friend, i'd bought it for her 5-year-old and she can't read it now but one day she will be able to and i think that is beautiful. >> we have time for one more question. >> i won't tell my story even though i would like to very much, but do you guys have any
sense of what that migration has done for the south itself, for people who are still there, how may be the culture reverberated a little bit and change things or made things better there? >> it is my contention that the great migration helped to accelerate the drive for civil rights and for the end of the caste system for which the people-- in other words, it showed the first of all the lower castes-- this caste system, the people who were being underpaid or not paid at all because they were working for the right to live on the land, they were farming had offers and they were willing to take them. that cost a lot of handwringing among the powers to be. editorials all over the place about what did we want to do? do we work them harder or do we aesop on them? there would be wholesale arrests of african-americans on the railroad platforms when there were large amounts trying to
leave. authorities would board the trains and arrest them in their seats if there were large numbers of people leaving so there is a great deal of handwringing that attended those early attempts of people to leave. ultimately though it also led to an opening up of the sense of opportunity for those who stayed. may be that people didn't want to go but they had an opportunity to see what it was like and that helped to set in motion what would not have been possible at the beginning of the great migration when there was believe it or not one out of, there was a lynching somewhere in the south every three days in the decades before the migration and the early decades of the migration so this is a very real threat people were living under so it would not have been possible for people to be marching in the streets and protesting as the later would in the 60s. by the 1960s african-americans who were here and the white people who supported the effort for freedom had more support for
being able to move forward without. that had an immense effect on the south. that meant people knew there was a place they could go and there were people coming back showing them how they were freer in the north, even if some of that was untrue. they would save all year for that matching tan coat and people didn't know that. then the final thing they did was they provided leverage for people who were there and might have needed a place to go once they put themselves on the line. that is black-and-white, and the people in the north as immigrants often do worse than-- sending money back south to move this process forward because they love the land they had less. one of the beautiful quotes from someone who was in the early stages said if i had a choice i would not have left. if i could do anything i wanted i would not have let the south but those who left ultimately said, i heard it over and over again in one form or another,
based on how things were i have made many statements but leaving the south was not one of them. the south is still living with us. the south can take great pride in what these people did because these people did what they did not just because they left because they left with southern culture. that southern culture was the music, the spiritual, the gospel, the rhythm that john kohl train took with him to philadelphia when he got that out helps out so sex and he has a lot of ménage is to the south and his work. i think is a interchange between the two. >> i see that when i go back to birmingham. what you had was a certain kind of bright light. people who could lead last, people who were the most
ambitious left and when i go back to the birmingham that i used to know as a kid which was a vibrant black business district, it is decimated now. you know it is difficult to talk about. you talk about progress, moving forward and good things happening but under segregation doctors and ditch diggers live down the street from each other. they sent their kids to the same schools. they lived in the community that might not have been rich but was rich in social capital and what happened is when people could move, you have this diaspora and it's sort of took something from that community. black businesses suffered comets additions like harper high school-- if you are black and lived in birmingham until the 1950s he went to harper high. it was the only high school. i could list a number of people who have gone to harper which is quite illustrious.
when my father went to harper all of the teachers, all of them, every single one of them had masters degrees because they couldn't work anywhere else, so they went into teaching. that is a bad thing that they couldn't work anywhere else but imagine the kind of education you would get in that kind of environment. there was this sort of underside to integration that we don't always talk about that i had to face in very painful ways in writing this book and something that really makes me quite sad. >> thank you. we have run out of time. [applause] >> i want to thank you for coming and sharing this hour with isabel and michelle and me. thank you. they will be signing books in about 15 minutes in the authors tent which is on the other side of this. thank you.
[inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations] >> this event was part of the texas book festival. to find out more about the festival and the authors that appeared there, visit texasbookfestival.org. >> i'm holding "the essential engineer: why science alone will not solve our global problems." it's author, henry petroski, fell us what is the reasoning behind the subtitle, why science alone will not solve our global problems? >> well, we hear a lot about the global problems, climate change and so forth. we also hear a lot about the importance of what science will do to help alleviate or out right solve them. the history of science and technology teaches us differently. science and scientists generally do not solve problems.
they help, but engineers are the problem solvers. engineers and problem solving are really hand in glove. >> in your book, you define the difference between scientist and engineers and how they work together. tell us a little bit more about that. >> well, scientists generally want to understand the world that's given to us. the universe if you will, the classic scientists studies the planets and stars, and wants to know the origin of the universe, and so forth. assembly knowledge really. getting to the bottom of things. but engineers on the other hand, they want to change the world. they want to introduce new things, new machines, new devices, things that really contribute to our civilization and our comfort. sciences and engineers get together in what's called research and development, r&d which we hear a lot about. but again the scientists are on the research and the engineers on the development end. there has to be a team work, passing of the baton if you will from understanding the situation as it is to changing the
situation through engineering. >> what's the difference between how engineering and science got us to where we are now and how engineering and science will take us into the future? >> that's an interesting question. as you know, a lot of people think those are the people that got us into trouble in the first place. well, we always have incomplete knowledge. science is always accumulating further knowledge. so we are always working as engineers with incomplete knowledge of the world and the laws of nature. so we make mistakes in that sense. we have to call them innocent mistakes in the sense they were done generally speaking, you know, without full knowledge of their implications. that's not to excuse them. because we should look down the line to what the implications of whatever we do will be. however, if we try to study the problem to death, we never get to solving the problem. and that's a fine-edge to really
separate the issues. >> in your book, you talk about speed bumps. why did you use speed bumps in the relationship between scientists and engineers? >> well, every problem that we try to solve or every part of nature that we try to understand, we invariably have to regroup part way along the path to the end. and i describe these as speed bumps. because i think it's a very good metaphor. it's not original with me actually. but, you know, speed bumps are sometimes helpful. and i try to point that out in the book also. that they make us think, they make us recalibrate and think about whether we are on the right road and street. we are being reminded of that. we are going too fast. which fetes -- which gets back to what we were talking about, going too fast and we might miss some of the implications that we might regret later on. >> you are going to be presenting later at the national
book festival. what are you going to tell the folks that come to see you? >> i only have about 20 minutes to allow for questions and answers. i'm going to focus on the difference between scientists and engineers. i think there's a general misunderstanding about that. a lot of times engineers are grouped with scientists. it's not that they resent that, it's that it's inaccurate. because of the distinctions that i try to draw. and especially in these days when we are trying to deal with so many global problems, so many, really, important issues. we hear a lot out of washington, really, right where we are, that, well, if we want to innovate, if we want to really change the way that we do things so that we can affect the economy and improve it, we have to throw more money at science. well, that leaves engineering out of the equation entirely. and maybe there's a confusion. maybe engineers are intended to be included in science. but more often than not, it's clear that they are not included.
and by not understanding that connection, i think we misopportunities. all of the great innovations of the world, basically, and all of history are engineering innovations and they are usually done if not always done with incomplete scientific knowledge. and i'll talk about some of those examples this afternoon such as the steam engine. there was no science on which to base the steam engine. it was only after they were operating for a couple of centuries that scientists began to look at it as an object of study. the wright brothers are another excellent example. trying to develop an airplane that would give us powered flight. the wright brothers looked for scientific basis on which to design their wings and propellers. they even wrote to the smithsonian institutions right on this mall and asked what do you have in your files that will help us. the answer that they got was there's nothing directly related to what you want to do. what the wright brothers had to
do, they had to go and do their own science. they had to do tests so they would figure out what shape a propeller should have. something as simple and basic as that. so the airplane was really developed with very, very little science to back it up. and i want to emphasize things like that this afternoon. so that we understand that if we just wait for science to bring us raw materials for innovation, we are either going to have to wait a very, very long time, or we are wasting time. we don't need complete information to move ahead. >> in addition to being an author, are you a scientist or engineer? >> i consider myself both in this regard. but i'm an engineering, that i'm very interested in creating things. books i see as creations. but i'm a scientist because i do have to study. i do have to get to the heart of the matter. and in most of my studying, most of engineering education includes a lot of science.
so you really learn to think like a scientist, as well as an engineer. one the things that i'll talk about this afternoon is albert einstein to show that you can be both. he's a classic example. but it's not widely known. it's widely known that he worked in the patent office when he was young because he couldn't get a job as a scientist. in the 1920s, he began to be an inventor in his own right after he won the noble prize. he could have sat back and did science. there was a challenge to invention and engineering. what he did was a mundane thing among others. refrigerators in the 1920s were very, very new. think were subject to leaks and the refridge rant that they leaked was poisonous. whole families were being killed when they were sleeping because of the leaking refrigerator.
there must be a way. einstein he went on to create a way, and he tried to market it. but it didn't work. refrigerators came up with freon. as we know, decades later, we discover that freon doesn't poison people, but the atmosphere. that's another one of those examples of unforeseen consequences. >> we've been talking with henry petroski, he's the author of "the essential engineer: why science alone will not solve our global problems." :
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