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Making a Way out of No Way: African American Women and the Second Great Migration

Overview

Shared memories from the hard-working southern women who relocated to northern cities and birthed the black middle class

The Second Great Migration, the movement of African Americans between the South and the North that began in the early 1940s and tapered off in the late 1960s, transformed America. This migration of approximately five million people helped improve the financial prospects of black Americans, who, in the next generation, moved ...

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Making a Way out of No Way: African American Women and the Second Great Migration

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Overview

Shared memories from the hard-working southern women who relocated to northern cities and birthed the black middle class

The Second Great Migration, the movement of African Americans between the South and the North that began in the early 1940s and tapered off in the late 1960s, transformed America. This migration of approximately five million people helped improve the financial prospects of black Americans, who, in the next generation, moved increasingly into the middle class.

Over seven years, Lisa Krissoff Boehm gathered oral histories with women migrants and their children, two groups largely overlooked in the story of this event. She also utilized existing oral histories with migrants and southerners in leading archives. In extended excerpts from the oral histories, and in thoughtful scholarly analysis of the voices, this book offers a unique window into African American women's history.

These rich oral histories reveal much that is surprising. Although the Jim Crow South presented persistent dangers, the women retained warm memories of southern childhoods. Notwithstanding the burgeoning war industry, most women found themselves left out of industrial work. The North offered its own institutionalized racism; the region was not the promised land. Additionally, these African American women juggled work and family long before such battles became a staple of mainstream discussion. In the face of challenges, the women who share their tales here crafted lives of great meaning from the limited options available, making a way out of no way.

Lisa Krissoff Boehm is associate professor of urban studies and director of the Commonwealth Honors Program at Worcester State College. She is the author of Popular Culture and the Enduring Myth of Chicago.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Boehm (urban studies, Worcester State Univ.) has written a fascinating study of African American women who migrated from the South to the North from 1940 to 1970 and worked outside the home. Based largely on interviews conducted by the author and some of her students with 40 such women, Boehm paints a portrait marked by both variety and a certain commonality. The interviewees ranged from one who spent most of her life in the North in domestic service to one who now owns her father's business. Some migrated gladly, others reluctantly. Some rather easily found work, while others struggled. Most left the South in order to improve their lot economically and escape Southern racism. Many, nonetheless, retain fond memories of their life before they migrated and note that racism existed in the North as well. Most worked in domestic service at some point and, interestingly, felt great pride and fulfillment in doing that work. VERDICT A very readable study, this is a valuable contribution to the field of African American history. Recommended especially for undergraduate and advanced readers.—A.O. Edmonds, Ball State Univ., Muncie, IN
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Meet the Author


Lisa Krissoff Boehm is associate professor of urban studies and director of the Commonwealth Honors Program at Worcester State College. She is the author of Popular Culture and the Enduring Myth of Chicago.
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