April 14, 2016

ICYMI: A Tremendous Force of Will

Left: Rukaiyah Adams, photo by Leah Nash photography. Right: Isabel Wilkerson, photo by Joe Henson

Rukaiyah Adams spoke with Isabel Wilkerson, author of the best-selling book The Warmth of Other Suns, which narrates stories from the nearly six million African-Americans who migrated from the South in the 20th century, in search of a better life.

Rukaiyah, a fourth-generation Oregonian whose family was part of the decades-long exodus known as the Great Migration, led their discussion on the Great Migration and its role in the civil rights movement.

Oregon Humanities excerpted from their conversation and later hosted the two women before a sold-out crowd in Portland.

Here's a peek at what they discussed:

Adams: The other thing I’m wrestling with now is being the descendent of those people who were so brave in facing such uncertainty and uprooting. I’m in the generation that my great-grandmother envisioned a life for. I’ve had more equal access to education, I have clean air, I have meaningful work. So in the long arc of what is seeking the freedom of our people, I keep returning to her experience and her notes in her Bible, thinking this protest didn’t end with her feet and her arrival in Oregon. What is the role that I play in this conversation? I watch what’s happening in Flint and Ferguson and Baltimore. And there’s protest in the streets, and at this point I think that the next wave of power is in owning and having the authority to set the agenda and to direct resources instead of petitioning morals or the law. That’s something I’m wrestling with, that the protest didn’t end with their arrival. That each one of us, in living out a fully, joyfully, powerfully black life, is the continuation of the statement that she was making. That I actually need to live the life that she imagined would be so great, and it turns out it’s better than she imagined. My great joy that I’m the recipient of that amazing risk that she took — it stuns me.

Wilkerson: We all owe a great debt to those brave people who took that leap of faith into the unknown. Not only you as a direct beneficiary, but the country owes a debt to them because they suffered so much under the brutal regime of Jim Crow. They — without the help of outsiders, without depending upon anyone else—took the step on their own to exercise their own agency. They went into often unexpectedly hostile environments. They were often misunderstood, they were often dismissed and faced rejection in these places that they had so much hope in, and still they persevered and hoped that life might be better — if not for themselves, then for their children and grandchildren and further down the line. Despite the odds, they were able to make it a better place for their children and grandchildren to the degree that they could, only to see the country flip back in the current era that we’re in. So it’s a very complex interweaving of forces that leads us to where we happen to be right now.

Read their conversation here