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

by Isabel Wilkerson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,5871412,628 (4.44)467
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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Showing 1-5 of 140 (next | show all)
I was left weeping by the end. Thoroughly engrossing and so very powerful. I agree with many reviewers that the editing could have been tighter, but it did not detract from the story as a whole. I hope that classrooms begin to incorporate the important historical and human import this book bears. The detail of the worlds and viewpoints Wilkerson opened up of which I had previously only just scratched the surface have absolutely changed my perspective of the world and this country. ( )
  LibroLindsay | Jun 18, 2021 |
The warmth of other suns
This is a thoroughly readable, well documented, compelling story about what is called the Great Migration in the USA which spanned 1915-1970. Millions of blacks left their homes in the south to escape racism, injustice, lack of opportunity and schools for better lives in northern cities such as Chicago, New York, Cleveland. Some travelled to California but as a group, they left for freedom of choice, equal justice, jobs, better opportunities for their children. They often followed family members or friends who had already settled and welcomed them with open arms.
The author chronicles the lives of three people and outlines the reasons for their departure, their voyages, their transformed lives, their hopes, dreams and disappointments. Intermingled with the three personal narratives, the author describes the terrible living and working conditions in the Jim Crow south where blacks are treated like slaves, even though slavery had been abolished. All facilities such as schools, hospitals, restaurants, churches, stores were segregated into blacks and whites. Black professionals such as teachers were paid a salary a third or half of whites. Black medical professionals were barred from practicing in white hospitals. The legal system was corrupted by racist sheriffs, judges, juries. Mobs routinely lynched innocent black citizens .

In 1937 Ida Mae Brandon Gladney of Chickasaw County, Mississippi leaves with her two young children to join her husband George in Chicago. They settle in the South side of the city, are able to to find decent work and raise their three children in a happy, stable home. Ida Mae becomes involved with her neighbourhood, is able to vote, makes lots friends and lives until 2004.
George Swanson Starling leaves Wildwood Florida 1945 with his wife Inez and heads to Harlem in New York City. He was well educated but worked as a fruit picker and was organizing workers to demand more cash for their efforts. He was becoming unpopular with the citrus farmers and left before he was lynched. He worked his entire life as a baggage handler for the railroads that traveled from NewYork to the south. His marriage was unhappy and his children succumbed to drugs or other problems. He found peace as a deacon in his church. He died in 1998
In 1963 Robert Joseph Pershing Foster drove his Buick Roadmaster from Monroe, Louisiana to Los Angeles looking for employment as a surgeon so that he could move his wife and two daughters away from his in-laws in Atlanta.
Even with his professional credentials he found blatant or subtle racism everywhere and it took several years before he was well established as a doctor. His patients were primarily black folks from the south and his practice grew because he was so devoted, kind, patient and competent. His lifestyle reflected his success with a big home, beautiful clothes and great educations for his three daughters. He and his wife Alice were among the social elite of LA. His spare time was spent gambling in Vegas or at a race track. He died in 1997 at the age of 78
The contributions that migrants brought to the North was huge much like foreign born immigrants to big American cities. They worked hard, welcomed any freedoms and chances available to them and their children when given access to a good education were able to excel. Really good book ( )
  MaggieFlo | Jun 15, 2021 |
long but could not put it down. incredibly written, so full and rich and challenging. I learned more from this about race and US history than 5 instructional books on the topic. ( )
  aezull | Jun 14, 2021 |
It's almost impossible to come away from this book not feeling at least a little moved, and much enriched, by these stories of the Great Migration of southern blacks to the northern cities. Equal parts wistful Studs Terkel oral histories, bleak John Steinbeck Depression-era travelogues, and rough Upton Sinclair immigrant tales, The Warmth of Other Suns does a magnificent job of telling the tale of one of the most important stories in American history (and one of the largest internal migrations in world history) by focusing on three very different, yet very typical members of the vast exodus of blacks from the South in the early part of the twentieth century: train porter George Starling's journey from Florida to New York City; doctor Robert Foster's journey from Louisiana to Los Angeles; and housewife Ida Mae Gladney's journey from Mississippi to Chicago.

Each of their stories is chronicled with vast amounts of interviews and scholarship, and the love that Wilkerson, a scion of this tectonic demographic shift herself, has for the subject material shines on every page. George, Robert, and Ida Mae's feelings of terror, heartsickness, determination, loneliness, and loss are rendered so vividly that by the end of the book, as Wilkerson is summarizing the forces that lead them to their ultimate destinations in the north, you feel as though you've been given a front-row seat in the great American story of people looking for opportunity in a new land. The parallels Wilkerson draws between the Great Migration and the waves of European immigration are fascinating; I had many occasions to ponder my own heritage as she describes how newly arrived blacks in the north, desperate for jobs that paid better than the near-slave labor still prevalent in the south up until the fifties and sixties, ended up used as pawns in the great battles between industry and labor that created the middle class. The black migrants were both very similar to, and yet very different from, the Irish, Italians, Jews, Slavs, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, etc who made their own mark on the country, and and the feelings you get from watching their hopes rise and fall with each new disappointment are indescribable, as is the full extent of the viciousness of the southern apartheid they tried to escape.

The bittersweetness felt by the migrants, who found new lives but certainly no New Jerusalem, is especially vivid when told through the main characters. Their flights from indentured servitude, lynching, segregation, and a thousand insults to find better wages, civil rights, and at least some part of the American Dream only to run up against the grim northern urban conflicts, the fraying of their connections to the south, and the inevitable exploitation and trials of immigrants, seem almost unbelievable in the era of the 44th President, but it's all true, all there. Ultimately Wilkerson takes what I think is the correct approach to what the "meaning" of the Great Migration is: though it's impossible to know what American history would be like without the massive wave of people voting with their feet, since it affected all parts of life so tremendously (what would cities like Baltimore or Detroit be like without the Great Migration? What about rock and roll, or Presidential elections, or the religious landscape?), we can nevertheless stand back, take in the huge human tide, and then go about our lives with a renewed appreciation for what it means to be an American. An interesting follow-up exercise after finishing the book is to look at demographic maps of major northern cities; these footprints are still written on the newly-washed shores of the inner cities. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
This is a must-read book for anyone living in the US. Wilkerson's super in-depth case studies chronicle the lives of three southern African Americans who migrate north during 3 different decades in the 20th century, ending up in LA, Chicago and NYC. ( )
  dcvance | May 4, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 140 (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.
added by ArrowStead | editEntertainment Weekly, Tina Jordan (Sep 10, 2010)
Not since Alex Haley's Roots has there been a history of equal literary quality where the writing surmounts the rhythmic soul of fiction, where the writer's voice sings a song of redemptive glory as true as Faulkner's southern cantatas.
added by ArrowStead | editSan Francisco Examiner
The Warmth of Other Suns is a brilliant and stirring epic, the first book to cover the full half century of the Great Migration....Wilkerson combines impressive research...with great narrative and literary power. Ms. Wilkerson does for the Great Migration what John Steinbeck did for the Okies in his fiction masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath; she humanizes history, giving it emotional and psychological depth.
added by ArrowStead | editThe Wall Street Journal

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wilkerson, Isabelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burns, KenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miles, RobinNarratorsecondary 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.
Last words
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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.
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