Shared memories from the hard-working southern women who relocated to northern cities and birthed the black middle class.
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.
Lisa Krissoff Boehm —
Lisa Krissoff Boehm is associate professor of urban studies and director of the Commonwealth Honors Program at Worcester State College. She is the author of Popular Culture and the Enduring Myth of Chicago.
Boehm, Lisa Krissoff. Making a way out of no way: African American women and the second great migration. Mississippi, 2009. 297p bibl index afp; ISBN 9781604732160. Reviewed in 2009nov CHOICE.
Boehm's 40 oral history interviews with African American women who participated in the second great south-to-north migration of workers in the two decades after WW II add important material to the growing collections of historical evidence from previously ignored historical actors. Boehm (Worcester State College) also includes oral histories from other collections to document her thesis that "in struggling to establish themselves as agents of their own life direction, the women ... ultimately pieced together beautiful lives out of the sometimes tattered scraps supplied to them." In addition to presenting new material, the author discusses important issues about women's studies and oral history. Can one use the concepts of agency and choice when most of these women's choices were severely circumscribed? Boehm answers affirmatively, emphasizing women's resilience and persistence as positive aspects of their lives. Following Mary Catherine Bateson, she sees "desperate improvisation as significant achievement." Boehm also raises a continuing paradox for oral history practitioners: whether the oral historian's role should be to "honor the respondent's story" or to correct historical facts. Boehm chooses the former. An important addition to the literature about women and work and African American history.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. -- S. S. Arpad, emerita, California State University, Fresno