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The warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
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The warmth of Other Suns (edition 2010)

by Isabel Wilkerson

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1,769873,979 (4.4)296
Member:grkmwk
Title:The warmth of Other Suns
Authors:Isabel Wilkerson
Info:Random House (2010), Edition: Advance Reader's Copy, Paperback
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Great Migration, United States, history, Jim Crow, South, 20th century, African Americans, DeacsRead, book club, ebook, NOOK, read.2012

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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

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Summary: The story of the great migration of blacks from the South to the North and West between 1915 and 1970, told through the lives of three of those migrants and their families.

One of the most significant migrations in American history never passed through Ellis Island, or across any of our national borders. Yet it was a migration of six million people and had huge social implications for the United States. It was the migration that took place from 1915 until around 1970 during which six million blacks left the Jim Crow South to migrate to the Northern and Western cities in the U.S. Many of these migrations followed the rail lines from where blacks lived in the south to various destination cities along those lines in the north. Often, other family, kin, or friends had preceded them.

Isabel Wilkerson tells the story of this migration through the lives of three persons (although she interviewed hundreds of others). Ida Mae Gladney is a plantation worker from Chickasaw Country, Mississippi, who along with her husband and children leave, ending up in Chicago after a cousin, Joe Lee is beaten up and falsely accused of theft. George Swanson Starling is a young man with aspirations of a college education from Eustis, Florida. Discouraged after a couple of years of school, he marries Inez, and resorts to picking the orange groves, and begins organizing for better wages for the pickers. When he receives word that the owners are preparing to lynch him, he heads north to New York City. Robert Joseph Pershing Foster was the son of a high school principal, who trained as a medical doctor and was a surgeon in World War 2. Coming home to Monroe, Louisiana, he is not granted admitting privileges at local hospitals and determines to head to California, undergoing a harrowing car trip across Texas and an American southwest inhospitable to blacks, setting up a hugely successful medical practice in Los Angeles with Ray Charles being one of his most famous patients.

Wilkerson skillfully weaves historical material about the realities of separate facilities, Jim Crow laws, the ever present danger of lynching for any black who was too "uppity", and a system that robbed them of wages due them, holding them in economic slavery. She describes their efforts to gain a toehold in the northern and western cities. George Starling works as a railroad porter, returning to the south from which he'd fled and helping other migrants he served on the trains. Ida Mae's husband works in a soup canning factory, she eventually secures work in a hospital. Foster starts out giving insurance exams and collecting urine samples, making $10 an exam. In telling this story she describes the subtle forms of discrimination they encounter instead of the overt racism of the South. Often they are deployed as cheap labor and strike breakers, which exacerbate tensions with white workers. Most tellingly, they are restricted to certain areas of the cities to which they migrated, prevented by restrictive covenants from moving into white neighborhoods. When they succeed as population pressures force them outward, there are often mass exoduses of whites from those neighborhoods, destabilizing the community. It was a story that played out in every northern city with Chicago's black south side and white north side, and Cleveland's black east side, and white west side being just two examples.

She describes how the migration changed both a South facing the loss of a workforce on which it depended and the North and West accommodating a changed situation. And we see the impacts of the cities they settled in on them and their children. While on the whole, the migrants were more likely to be married and stay married, worked harder and were on welfare much less, they, and especially their children were not insusceptible to problems already prevalent in the north with drugs and street crime. Yet many were notable successes (such as Robert Foster) and the first black mayors in many northern cities came from the South.

Perhaps one of the things I most appreciated in this work was that Wilkerson seemed to genuinely respect each of the three individuals she features in this work, despite their imperfections. She enters their lives and allows them to tell their story on their own terms. She is present, even holding George Starling's hand and squeezing it as he sinks into the coma that ends in his death. But it is a presence that draws out and tells the story of the migration without getting in the way.

I was a child and teen in a northern city during the latter part of the period of this migration. The growing presence of blacks in our city, the pressures this placed on housing and the transitions of neighborhoods were topics of family conversation, not always pleasant. This book helps me understand the dynamic behind those conversations, but also helps me step out of my white sub-culture as I listen to the stories of people longing for freedom and safety from the invidious culture of Jim Crow, people longing for the chance to work hard at a fair wage to pursue a better life for their children. So many of us are also the children of immigrants who wanted the same things. It makes me wonder whether the hearing and telling of these family stories, both unique, and yet not so different may be one of the paths toward the healing of the wounds of race in our nation. Isabel Wilkerson has given us a great chance to begin if we will listen to the stories of Robert, George, and Ida Mae. ( )
  BobonBooks | Apr 17, 2016 |
This is a close-in biography of three African Americans who migrate from Jim-Crow Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City. It’s an interesting and extremely well-researched trio of personal oral histories but, considering its subtitle, “The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” it was less informative about the big picture than I’d expected. Still, I did learn -- of the level of racism in early-1900s Florida; of the level of torture involved in some lynchings; that the top migration points in the north became the most severely (and enduringly) segregated U.S. cities. And it was immersive; I listened to its 19 CDs over weeks and weeks of morning walks and felt adrift when I finished. ( )
  DetailMuse | Apr 2, 2016 |
An excellent book that could have been outstanding with some better editing. Ms. Wilkerson told the history of the migration of African Americans from the South to the North, East and West primarily through the stories of 3 individuals - an approach which made the history much more immediate and personal, and made it much more than a dry historical tome. She spent hours with those individuals and their families and friends, and her affection for them came through very clearly, particularly at the end. Woven through the personal stories were some statistics and other information about the time period being covered at that point. All of that - outstanding and fascinating, although sometimes difficult to read the personal stories of living in the South at that time. However, the narrative jumped back and forth between each individual and other material, and was also quite repetitive - I think so that the reader didn't lose track of the details about each person, which worked I guess, but the repetition became tiresome. I did like the movement back and forth between the stories, as it allowed comparisons between the different experiences at the same point in their stories, but it was done too often - sometimes multiple times in each chapter. With tighter editing, this could have been a really outstanding book; as it was, I still was tremendously moved by it and would definitely recommend it. Even more, I recommend hearing the author speak - I had the opportunity to hear her speak about the book and her process of researching and writing it (many years of work and thousands of interviews - I think she interviewed about 1500 people before settling on the 3 she uses as her primary subjects), and she is a wonderful speaker. ( )
  Booklover889 | Feb 25, 2016 |
A definite! Hope we include this one - although it may be too long - 539 pages.
  gennyrebecca | Feb 7, 2016 |
This book was a great look at the Great Migration. I thought the story was well told, but she repeats a lot of information as the story jumps around. ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
I give this book two enthusiastic thumbs up: you’ll not only learn a lot about this underappreciated part of recent America history (I see its remnants about me every day in Chicago, since I live on the South Side, perhaps the most famous destination of the Migration), but also become deeply involved in the lives of Ida Mae, George, and Robert. The ending is poignant and bittersweet, and will make you both proud of the migrants and sad about their fate. The writing is quite good (Wilkerson won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism—the first black woman to do so—for her work at The New York Times), and the scholarship, though thorough, is worn lightly. (The book was 15 years in the making and Wilkerson interviewed over 1200 people.) If there’s one flaw—and it’s a small one—the writing is occasionally awkward and more than occasionally repetitious, with the same facts repeated in different places. But that’s a trifle that should by no means put you off.
 
Wilkerson intersperses historical detail of the broader movement and the sparks that set off the civil rights era; challenging racial restrictions in the North and South; and the changing dynamics of race, class, geography, politics, and economics. A sweeping and stunning look at a watershed event in U.S. history.
added by sduff222 | editBooklist, Vanessa Bush (Sep 15, 2010)
 
Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, uses the journeys of three of them-a Mississippi sharecropper, a Louisiana doctor, and a Florida laborer--to etch an indelible and compulsively readable portrait of race, class, and politics in 20th-century America. History is rarely distilled so finely. A
added by sduff222 | editEntertainment Weekly, Tina Jordan (Sep 10, 2010)
 
Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.
added by sduff222 | editPublishers Weekly
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Isabel Wilkersonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burns, KenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miles, RobinReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
I was leaving the South
To fling myself into the unknown. . . .
I was taking a part of the South
To transplant in alien soil,
To see if it could grow differently.
If it could drink of new and cool rains,
Bend in strange winds,
Respond to the warmth of other suns
And, perhaps, to bloom.

- Richard Wright
Dedication
To my mother and
to the memory of my father,
whose migration made me possible,
and to the millions of others like them
who dared to act upon their dreams.
First words
The night clouds were closing in on the salt licks east of the oxbow lakes along the folds in the earth beyond the Yalobusha River.
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Book description
In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America.
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In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America.… (more)

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