Tag Archives: black history month

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

6 Feb

warmth of other suns

The Great Migration, the time between 1915 and 1970 when over six million African Americans moved out of the Jim Crow South to dozens of large cities across the country, was one of the biggest demographic shifts in American history. Cities like New York, Baltimore, Detroit, and Los Angeles would develop thriving black neighborhoods that continue to shape the culture and politics of the United States. From Harlem to Watts, these newly changing neighborhoods would experience an explosion in art and culture during the Great Migration, with African Americans from the South bringing their musical, artistic, religious, culinary, and folk traditions with them.

My neighborhood, the Central Ward in Newark, was a major point of settlement for African American migrants and the city would shift from a majority European immigrant population to a majority black population over the course of just a few decades. Local legend always held that the reason Newark became a hub for these arrivals from the South was that people would mishear train conductors calling for “Newark Penn Station” with “New York Penn Station” and get off at the wrong stop. Whether this piece of lore is true or not, I was curious to learn more about how the Great Migration affected my city and so many others across the country. I could not have picked a book more epic in scale than The Warmth of Other Suns to explore this topic.

Wilkerson alternates between the narratives of three different migrants, each of whom settles in a different part of the United States during a different phase of the Great Migration. Their stories all start in the segregated South and their reasons for migrating North were common to millions of others. Fleeing racist violence, leaving behind the abusive sharecropping system that replicated some of the conditions of slavery, and desiring to live in a place where one could have a more liberated existence were all reasons why millions left for northern and western cities. Similar to the immigrant experience, many African Americans were eager to travel thousands of miles to what they hoped would be a better life.

Following Wilkerson’s three migrants is exhilarating and the reader experiences the ups and downs of the journey with each character. Crowded cities with public transportation and industrial jobs would have been foreign experiences to those leaving small, segregated towns in the rural South, but despite the sense of community northern cities provided to African Americans, the Great Migration is not a simple story of upward mobility. While less systematized than the South, racism was still prominent in northern cities. Many migrants were forced into poor quality housing in segregated neighborhoods and worked dangerous industrial jobs for poverty level wages. Some felt that they had simply traded rural poverty for urban poverty. By the end of the 1960’s Newark, Harlem, Watts, and many other northern cities would experience urban great unrest caused by these conditions.

Wilkerson’s book still has many uplifting moments. Lots of African American migrants did experience newfound freedoms and success. Robert Foster, one of the three figures whose narratives Wilkerson highlights, left Louisiana to pursue a medical career. He became one of California’s most respected surgeons and the personal physician to Ray Charles. History is never black and white and The Warmth of Other Suns treats this epic story with the depth and nuance that it requires.

We are celebrating African-American History Month this February at the Hoboken Library and hope you can join us!  You can see all the great events on our calendar page including Black Comedy: No Tears, Just Politics on February 19 at 6 pm and  Thinking In Full Color Empowering Women of Color Through Education & The Arts on February 21 at 7 PM.  All the Maker Mondays in February will have special activities for kids so they can learn about important African American Inventors.

Written by:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

Nourishing the Body and Mind with an Examination of African American Chefs and Cuisine!

3 Feb

For this year’s Black History Month, I wanted to serve up some not only tasty but also enlightening reads that explore and celebrate African American Cooks and Cuisine.

The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks by Toni Tipton-Martin

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Although African Americans have added many great dishes, techniques, and ingredients to the food culture of America, often their contributions have not been fully recognized and appreciated.  Tipton-Martin moves beyond soul food staples and looks back at a variety of cookbooks by African American starting in the time of slavery and moving into the 21st century including examples of illustrations from the books themselves.  This shows a fascinating progression of not only food, but the changing ethos of this country.  The book won a James Beard Foundation Book Award, 2016; Art of Eating Prize, 2015; and a BCALA Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation, 2016.  If you find this book fascinating you might also want to check out Psyche A. Williams-Forson’s scholarly Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power, which explores and goes beyond the stereotypical association of chicken with African Americans to look at issues of race, gender, and class and examines the way African American and also women’s cooking has often been marginalized by the larger American Culture.

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story about Edna Lewis by Robbin Gourley

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Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie is Robbin Gourley’s, author of the cookbook Cakewalk, first picture book.  Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie tells the fictionalized story of Edna Lewis during her childhood as she helps to garden, pick, and prepare fresh produce with her family.  Lewis was the granddaughter of emancipated slaves and her focus on fresh simple ingredients was a forerunner to the current local fresh food movement today.  I’m planning to check this one out to read with my son who should enjoy the bright vibrant watercolor illustrations, and being a budding chef I’m sure will want to pick out one of the five kid friendly recipes included to help make.  For adults wanting to recreate some of Lewis’s delicious recipes you can check out The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great Southern Cooks by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, In Pursuit of Flavor by Edna Lewis with Mary Goodbody, and The Taste of Country Cooking available from BCCLS libraries.  In 2014, Lewis was one of five chefs to be honored on United States Forever Stamps; “forever” to me is the perfect way to describe her lasting legacy.

Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem by Marcus Samuelsson

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Marcus Samuelsson is a James Beard Award Winning chef and author of several autobiographies and cookbooks.  In 2009, Samuelsson had the honor of being invited to be the guest chef for the first state dinner of Barack Obama’s presidency (and Obama and his guests had the honor of eating Samuelsson’s delicious food).  Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia and was adopted along with his sister by a Swedish family.  He spent time cooking in France before coming to America.  This diverse history informs his life and food.  At Red Rooster he sought to synthesize the many stories of Harlem, where his restaurant is based, including those of the many generations of African Americans who have lived there along with other immigrant communities, which creates a compelling fusion cuisine.  If you are curious to learn more about Samuelsson check out from HPL his biography Yes, Chef, which was also adapted for teens into Make it Messy: My Perfectly Imperfect Life.  Or for Samuelsson’s recipes borrow his cookbooks Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home, The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa, The New American Table, and Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine.

BCCLS libraries have a variety of modern African-American cookbooks to borrow including Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine by Bryant Terry, The New African-American Kitchen by Angela Shelf Medearis, and Low-Fat Soul by Jonell Nash.  Your little chef and budding historian can enjoy Addy’s Cookbook: A Peek at Dining in the Past with Meals You can Cook Today written by Rebecca Sample Bernstein, which features authentic recipes inspired by the popular fictional American Girl character Addy, who in the book series escaped slavery along with her mother.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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