Friday, September 02, 2011
The Great Migration: In which I teach a sweet old lady how to use Google
The Great Migration-a period of time when African-Americans left the South for the North (and West) in the hopes of better lives-is something I obsess about a little. I was at Union Station looking for the Great Migration exhibit that I read about and couldn't seem to find it. When I asked someone who worked there, she said it wasn't there and that people had been asking her about it for over a week. That seemed strange to me…things are misreported all the time, but the article I had read had been so specific.
So I went over the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum so I could still get my exhibit-on. In one of those "I just have to try" moments, I asked the woman at the front desk if she knew anything about the exhibit that was supposed to be at Union Station. She didn't. But she offered to look it up for me online.
As it turns out she was offering to look it up within the Smithsonian website that was the homepage on her computer. She seemed to be a very sweet old lady. For a moment, I thought I'd just let her look it up there, not find it because this exhibit had nothing to do with the Smithsonian, and then I'd be on my way…
But rather than stand there and wait and be polite while she painstakingly and slowly tried to type in the info ("How do you spell migration?" she asked.), I told her to type the words into the Google search bar.
By the time we got to the original article, I had shown her how to search for things on Google (typing in 'Great Migration' only would yield all kinds of unrelated info, but typing in "Great Migration Union Station DC' actually lead to an article about the exhibit), and how to scroll down to see more than a few results.
It was a great exchange--I got info on the exact location of the exhibit and got to hear her reminisce about how she remembered her mother talking to her the experience of migrating to the North. She learned about the exhibit next door at Union Station and did her first search on Google.
As for the exhibit itself, there was not a lot to it. It was sponsored by Amtrak and set up near one of the gates people use when they board trains. Really, it was some very large banners that were informative, but not worth a special trip. The Great Migration lasted for decades, waxing and waning at different points from 1915 to 1970, but they confined to a much shorter time period.
And now of course, we have the reverse Great Migration, which is no less interesting than the Great Migration and something in which I have taken part. I'm not in the deep South, but I have left (what I consider to be) the North. In a discussion with my North Carolina cousins, they declared DC to still be North. That's fine. I just remember my father telling me that an old deacon at my church back home in Buffalo could not understand why young people wanted to move to Georgia. His attitude was that he left and was certainly not going back. I feel the same way about Buffalo, so if I have children who trek up there in a future where that make sense, I'd wonder at them too.