Read the book or watch the documentary? In this case, seeing the documentary “Goin’ to Chicago” would give you a wonderful sense of only part of the book “The Warmth of Other Suns,” by Isabel Wilkerson, this year’s pick for Galveston Reads.

However, I recommend you do not miss the authenticity and the sometimes startling portrayal of the migration from the South through the first half of the 20th century in this documentary. 

In 1994, a group of Chicagoans chartered a bus to take them back to the places they left in Mississippi 40 or 50 years ago. Wilkerson herself tells us, “Mean and ornery as it may have been, the South was still the Old Country, the land where their fathers and mothers were buried.” 

The travelers are regarded with a distant kind of respect. They have survived in places where the home folks are pretty sure they might not have made it.

Many admit they did feel a certain boldness and level of frustration that would have inevitably led to trouble had they stayed, chafing under the harsh and rigid Jim Crow ways of the South. However, the path north was hostile in many ways. Starting off, no hotels or restaurants were willing to serve them on their journey. 

Mildred Flemming is one among many who recount the reasons for leaving the South. She recalls going to school all day with no food. A turnip patch served as the school cafeteria — if they would dig and cook them. Home wasn’t much better — a pot of beans was the evening meal, with seldom enough to satisfy everyone. 

You will see the sharecroppers walking behind the plow. The footage of the cotton pickers shows the huge bags trailing behind, and you learn of the pitiful wages. You will hear the haunting music and see the shacks from times past. 

The courage of the migrant was supported with the belief that God would make a way. Once in the North, they often regrouped into their neighborhoods and churches. 

Come see this revealing video tapestry of our recent history. “Going to Chicago” in a free screening open to the public at  7 p.m. Thursday at Galveston College in the Seibel Student Center.

Mary Case is retired and has been a member of the Galveston Reads Committee for many years.

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