We’ve been asked by many of our customers for periodic, no-nonsense emails with just-in-time information for managers and knowledge workers on how organizations work. This is our 45th issue and we hope you enjoy it. Past issues are available on our website.
It's 1953, and you're a doctor driving from Louisiana to California to start a new job. Your first stop is Houston where you have a friend to stay with. Once you leave Houston, you have to drive to at least New Mexico because there are no motels in Texas that will take a black man. The Jim Crow laws were not in effect in the Southwest so you assume you can get a room in Arizona. Imagine your shock when you stop at motel after motel outside of Phoenix and you are told there is no vacancy: that they had forgotten to turn off the 'vacancy' sign. You now have to drive all the way to California (from New Mexico) before you can get a room to safely stop.
It's 1945 in Florida and you have just boarded a train for the North because your efforts to get better wages for your fellow orange pickers has created a life and death situation for you. A "necktie" party is being arranged where you and another wage activist are going to be lynched and you know there will be no repercussions for those who will kill you. "In Florida and in the rest of the Deep South, 'the killing of a Negro by a white man ceased in practice even to call for legal inquiry,' a white southerner observed in the early 1940's." (page 157). You have less than 24 hours to flee taking only a bag of clothes.
It's 1937 in Mississippi and sharecroppers' George and Ida Mae Gladney's cousin is beaten half to death over a false accusation about some turkeys that had run off. He had been left in jail, barely conscious and nothing was done about it. George and Ida Mae decide then and there to leave as soon as the cotton is in. They like most who decide to leave, tell no one but a few relatives of their plans. They will join family already up north. But first they have to 'cash out': get paid for the work they have done and have the planter agree that George doesn't owe him anything. They certainly don't tell the planter they are leaving because: "The planter could rescind the settlement, say he mis-figured, turn a credit into a debit, take back the money, evict the family or whip the sharecropper on the spot or worse. Some sharecroppers, knowing they might not get paid anyway, fled from the field, right in midhoe, on the first thing going north." (page 167) Actually even getting on a train going north was a challenge for blacks. "In Savannah, Georgia, the police arrested every colored person at the station regardless of where he or she was going. In Summit, Mississippi, authorities simply closed the ticket office and did not let northbound trains stop for colored people waiting to get on." (page 163)
This book is terrifying to read yet I found it fascinating and a missing piece of our country's history. The Pulitzer Prize winning author tells it through the 3 stories and takes it through their entire lives. She weaves in many statistics but there is nothing dry here. The doctor goes to California, the fruit picker to New York and George and Ida Mae go to Chicago. They all find work and housing in highly segregated cities that in no way lay out a welcome mat for those escaping the horrors of Jim Crow.
These are stories of courage and resilience and I found them inspirational. Frankly I don't see much in the business world that inspires me at the moment so I'll take it where I do see it and I highly recommend this book. The author has certainly given me a glimpse of what it is like to be black. I say is because all you have to do is watch some documentaries of what happened during or after Katrina and you'll see that not enough has changed. Continue your education of our story and prepare to be as inspired as you are shocked at how Americans treated other Americans in the century after the Civil War
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