Archived: Lynching, Oppression, Lost Potential: Why Blacks Fled the South

The migration of Blacks from the American South to the North is “the greatest untold story of the 20th century,” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson said to an audience of CEOs and senior executives at DiversityInc’s diversity conference in Washington, D.C.

Her book, “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” is about Blacks’ emigration from the South between 1915 and 1970 to escape a “mercurial” caste system of color that threatened violence daily. “An African American was lynched every four days,” Wilkerson said. “That was the price of maintaining the caste system.”

Wilkerson talked about how the migration of Blacks was much like the migration of Europeans, Asians and Latinos to the U.S. — the journey was about freedom to express and to build on their talents.

“It is about the very thing that propelled all of our forebears, one way or another — across the Atlantic in steerage, or across the Rio Grande, or across the Pacific Ocean. It’s the very thing that binds all of us together. We all have so much more in common that we’ve been led to believe, because, ultimately, somebody in all of our backgrounds had to do what the people in this book did,” Wilkerson says.

“That is really what diversity is all about, building on innate talents that are within us all and making the most of everybody who’s in our organizations,” she says. “The cost of holding people down and not allowing them to flourish hurts the world.”

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