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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of…

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (edition 2010)

by Isabel Wilkerson

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Title:The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
Authors:Isabel Wilkerson
Info:Random House (2010), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 640 pages
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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson


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Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
I feel enlightened about so many things after reading this. the story - which i knew nothing about - of this great migration informs me about the struggle for lgbt etc. rights, the struggle for women's rights, and finally schooled me about what white privilege means. a deeply important book, necessary in these times. ( )
  zenhead | Aug 28, 2016 |
gah! okay -- so this book is another example of a time i would love to have various criteria upon which to rate our readings. there is absolutely no doubt wilkerson's book is an important, necessary, and urgently relevant book. subject matter alone, this is a 5-star book. i was less taken, though, with the style of the writing -- i found it really repetitive. unnecessarily so, and hugely distracting for how i read anyhow, which is to focus on one book at a time and read through until i finish. i can see how the repetitions or 'refreshers' on backstory could help if you are a reader who dips in and out, taking long pauses in between your reading sessions. but if you don't read that way, you may find this aspect of the book frustrating too. so for me, i am around 2 to 2 ½-stars on writing/structure. i just wish the flow of the read had gone much more smoothly for me.

i do feel wilkerson did a tremendous job harnessing her incredible wealth of research. and by focusing her migration stories on three people, it truly did help give voice, depth, and emotion to the plights and circumstances so many southern black americans were fighting through. these sections of the book - featuring the stories of ida mae, george, and robert (pershing) - were captivating, and their personal strengths hugely admirable. the breadth of history covered in this book was interesting to revisit, and wilkerson certainly brought it vividly to life. i also loved the studies and statistics wilkerson included in her work, helping to disprove so many wrongly held beliefs about southern black americans, and their migrations to the north and west. wilkerson was very clever in focusing on the longstanding caste system existing in america, and in pointing out how southern black migrants had so very much in common with immigrants arriving in america from other countries. assimilation (it's a melting pot, after all) and acceptance were difficult struggles and for many never truly achieved, or achieved only on the surface. the inner emotional struggles - having one foot in each of two places; never feeling the peace of 'home' - were lifelong for many. the consequences of slavery are still a shameful and horrific legacy in the U.S. so many generations later, people still fight to exist equally, freely, and without fear.

for many reasons, wilkerson's book should be required reading. ( )
  Booktrovert | Jul 16, 2016 |
Amazingly researched and written history of the African-American/black migration from the south to the cities of the north, midwest, and west. Wilkerson is a Pulitzer-winning journalist, and journalists doing history usually drives me crazy. But she knows her stuff, can research, and can write--and her journalism background is undoubtedly useful for doing good oral history.

Wilkerson follows 3 black adults who left the south for somewhat different reasons (to escape to safety after his activism was well known, to achieve his dreams of being a top doctor, and to escape a life of sharecropping), in different decades, from different places, and for different destinations. The three did not know each other and came from fairly different backgrounds (educated but trapped in menial work, well educated, and sharecroppers)--but all lived under Jim Crow and had dreams for themselves and their children.

This book should be required reading for all Americans. It is moving, depressing, hopeful, and more--all at the same time. And it explains a lot of things Americans see every day--from segregated neighborhoods to crowded southern restaurants. ( )
  Dreesie | Jun 24, 2016 |
25. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
reader: Robin Miles
published: 2010
format: digital audiobook (22:42)
acquired: from audible, on March 30, because of an essay by Jill Lepore
read: Mar 31 - May 8
rating: 5 stars

I was really carried away by this history of US black migration from south to north. The migration itself is interesting, six million African Americans fleeing the Jim Crow south over a period of 60 years, from WWI through the 1960's. And the elements around and about it are interesting. But what made this book special to me is what how Wilkerson presented it. The book is mainly the history of three individuals she started interviewing in the 1990's, each representing a different migration route. The history becomes, or is derived from, oral history and the migration becomes a human story—one of hopes and disappointment.

Her three main subjects were Bob Foster, George Swanson Starling and Ida Mae Brandon Gladney. Bob Foster was a success, eventually. Raised in Monroe, Louisiana, he became a leading doctor in Los Angeles, and Ray Charles' personal physician (and the Doctor Foster in the song Hide nor Hair). He lived a high life, and mostly estranged his family along the way. Wilkerson found George Swanson Starling living alone in a Harlem basement apartment. Unable to finish college because he lacked the funds needed to attend a school that allowed blacks, he later fled his central Florida community, where he had literally been targeted to be lynched after trying to organize orange grove pickers. He spent his life as the rough equivalent of a train conductor. Wilkerson's main apparent hero was Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, who she found in a Chicago inner city slum rife with crime and drug deals and violence. Ida Mae grew up in a share cropper community in rural Mississippi. She and her husband left when a relative was beat with chains for stealing turkeys, except that the missing turkeys had merely wandered off and would return the next day.

Wilkerson builds a picture of the African American world in south in the 1930's, 40's and 50's, and then of the world they transported themselves to. Wilkerson calls them immigrants, even as she says they each balked at that characterization. But the comparison works in several ways. The migrants were largely southern rural naive transplants with limited productive connections, full of false hope and ripe for disappointment. And they left Jim Crow just to land in other heavily racist, and restrictive communities. As Wilkerson puts it, they didn't really benefit from leaving the south, but they did benefit in the act itself as an effort to control their own lives.

But it's the personal stories that I really liked, the biographies, life stories, and the way Wilkerson tells them. She covers the same events several times, not from the perspectives of different people, but from the perspective of different contexts. We hear a story in some detail. Then it comes up again as someone's past, but she summarizes it as if the reader had never encountered the story before. The summaries add a few details, even as they leave most things out. And later she returns to the same story yet again from yet another context. And it works, actually it was a very effect technique as she used it, forcing the reader to rethink what we thought was familiar.

I could write a great deal more about this book. There are numerous really important, fascinating and sometime horrifying details. I found the history fascinating, and the book humanizing, really opening up this world—these worlds—to us in full color. We only really get three stories, but the implications go so much farther.

Not all reviews are fully positive. But I can only recommend this. ( )
2 vote dchaikin | May 15, 2016 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 91 (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

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Isabel Wilkersonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burns, KenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miles, RobinReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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
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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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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