The Great Migration: Invited but Not Welcome


February 16, 2018

Contemplative Prayers for Reconciliation and Healing of Racism


In 2010 Isabel Wilkerson released a novel on immigration, racism and classism,  When Krista Tippett interviewed her about the book, Wilkerson described how the Black people left the South out of fear for their lives and a desire for dignity and a better life for their family. “There was a lynching every four days in the early decades of the 20th century.” Unfortunately, when they reached their destinations across the North, Midwest and West coast, their arrival was not met with open arms and joy.

“(T)he great tragedy is that they were brought in as strikebreakers by the companies who were trying to break the unions… One of the great tragedies of the 20th century is that there were all of these people arriving in these big cities in the North, industrial cities – Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo – all of these places. And there were people coming in from parts of Europe…and there were people coming from the South…all wanting the same thing. And there were places – in Milwaukee, for example – that said no African Americans – many places, actually, said African Americans would not be hired. They would stop them as they were walking up to the factory gate, because it was visible that they were African-American. And so, as it turned out, many of the recruiters representing, you might say, the North – they wanted the labor of African Americans from the South, but didn’t want the people.”

We often think of these Northern cities as having strong African American populations, but these cities were not like this before the Great Migration. They didn’t have a significant African Americanpopulation, and many of the people who came only came because they were “people who felt they had no choice and that they would not have lived, if they hadn’t gotten out (of the South).”
She continues:

“…they arrived invited, but not welcome. They arrived making the least for the hardest work. They arrived consigned to neighborhoods that were declining – that had been declining from the moment they arrived… And they were not permitted, in any of these cities, to live anywhere that they wanted or anywhere that their money would take them. All of us who have been to any city in the North know exactly where the arriving district or arriving neighborhood of people of the Great Migration would be – it’s the oldest broken-down neighborhood in all of these cities; usually, not well-positioned – by the railroad tracks or near the factories.”

She goes on to describe the situation in a term all too familiar today: “these were refugee camps created in our American cities… (T)hey were actually making more money, but it wasn’t going as far, because there were so many coming in, flooding these neighborhoods that were being hemmed in and pressed against.” And the effects of this are still very present today, both in the physical space and layout of cities and in the psychological rejection of those who look different.

Prayer for Centering
Lord, our God, source of all life, you reveal yourself in the depths of our being drawing us to share in your life and love.
Bless each of us as we respond to your Spirit’s invitation to open wide the doors to Christ.
Make the doors of our hearts, our homes and communities wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship, narrow enough to shut out all envy, prejudice and pride.
Let us hasten to welcome the stranger, and so welcome your Son.
We make this prayer in his name, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Invitation to Silence

The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
Father, forgive.

The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
Father, forgive.

The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Father, forgive.

Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Father, forgive.

Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
Father, forgive.

The lust which dishonors the bodies of men, women and children,
Father, forgive.

The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Father, forgive.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ forgave you.


Weekly Reflection Questions:
(from Isabel Wilkerson’s On Being interview:

  1. Consider a time when you were not welcome. How did this make you feel? Why were others not welcoming to you? How did you cope with this rejection?
  2. Where have you seen instances of people being rejected in your own life or city? How did the people rejecting others justify their actions? What did you do (or could you have done) to refuse this rejection and open your heart and arms?
  3. What changes might we make in our day-to-day lives to improve our spirit and actions of welcome, to help us recognize the God-given dignity in every, single person?

February 22, 6:30pm, Progressive Baptist Church: “The Hidden Impact of Segregation” by Reggie Jackson, Head Griot, America’s Black Holocaust Museum

February 26, 5:00pm, Tippecanoe Branch (Milwaukee Public Library), 3912 S Howell Ave.: “How We Got Here” by Reggie Jackson, Head Griot, America’s Black Holocaust Museum

February 27, 7:00pm, Jewish Museum Milwaukee, 1360 N Prospect: “Redlining, Racism and Reflection: Where from Here?” with multiple speakers, $8

March 10, 2018, 5:15 PM – A Healing Mass for the City of Milwaukee, co-presided by Fr. Tim Kitzke, Vicar General for Urban Ministry and Fr. Mike Hammer, Archdiocesan AIDS Ministry

The Pastoral Plan from the National Black Catholic Congress (released in Nov. ’17):

A timeline done in honor of Black History Month documenting some of the more notable contributions of Black Catholics:

Article from the Catholic Herald about the presentation of the Milwaukee Black Catholic Pastoral to Archbishop Listecki


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