Black History Month Reflections from Fr. Brown: The Warmth of Other Suns

By Rev. Timothy Brown, S.J.  |  Paintings by Jacob Lawrence

Book cover for The Warmth of Other SunsThe Warmth of Other SunsThe Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson is a stunning history of the migration of southern blacks to northern and western cities.

I followed the stories of three very different people — Ida May Gladney, from sharecropping Mississippi to Chicago; George Starling, who left Florida in 1945 heading to Harlem; and Robert Foster, who would leave Louisiana in 1953 travelling to California achieving the American dream as a successful doctor in Los Angeles.

I have always loved the paintings of Jacob Lawrence, the artist who chronicled on canvas the Great Migration.

For Black History Month I offer this meditation:

There is no mistaking
What is going on;
It is a regular exodus.
It is without head, tail, or leadership.
Its greatest factor is momentum,
And this is increasing,
Despite amazing efforts on the part
Of white Southerners to stop it.
People are leaving their homes
And everything about them,
Under cover of night,
As though they were going
On a day’s journey —
Leaving forever

The Cleveland Advocate April 28, 1917

Jacob Lawrence painting shows peoplw walking as birds fly overhead

By Jacob Lawrence

I was leaving the South
To fling myself into the unknown….
I was taking a part of the South
To transplant in alien soil,
To see if it could grow differently,
If it could drink of new and cool rains,
Bend in strange winds,
Respond to the warmth of other suns
And, perhaps, to bloom

— Richard Wright, 12 Million Black Voices

Jacob Lawrence painting shows people waiting by train tracks

By Jacob Lawrence

We have been told
That we can sit where we please,
But we are still scared.
We cannot shake off three hundred years of fear
In three hours

— Richard Wright

Jacob Lawrence painting showing people sitting in bus seats from above

By Jacob Lawrence

Timidly, we get off the train.
We hug our suitcases, fearful of pickpockets….
We are very reserved,
For we have been warned not to act green….

Jacob Lawrence painting of people standing together looking to the left

By Jacob Lawrence

We board our first Yankee street car
To go to a cousin’s home…
— Richard Wright

Jacob Lawrence painting of people riding on a bus seen from the outside

By Jacob Lawrence

“It occurred to me that no matter where I lived, geography could not save me”
— Jacqueline Joan Johnson who migrated from Charleston, South Carolina to New York.

Jacob Lawrence painting showing people, including children, walking along a street

By Jacob Lawrence

Read other Black History Month Reflections by Father Brown

Toni Morrison’s Nobel Lecture

Central Park Five

A Lucille Clifton Poem

A Langston Hughes Poem

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