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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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4,1951622,308 (4.45)498
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 160 (next | show all)
Excellent!! ( )
  txorig | Jun 16, 2022 |
I was unable to finish this book because the description of the torture to African American slaves was so thoroughly disturbing. With the pandemic and the war in the Ukraine, I need to read something uplifting. ( )
  AstridG | Apr 28, 2022 |
This is a non-fiction book about the Great Migration - the movement of almost six million American black people from south to north and west, seeking opportunity and an escape from the even worse - and more overt - racism of the south. I was surprised to discover that the author is a journalist; this reads more like a work of anthropology, and the author seems to be at least an order of magnitude better at citing sources than any other journalist I can recall reading.

It is based on a huge number of interviews with migrants and those who knew them. I.e. it's based on a huge work of oral history, performed by the author researching for the book.

The author selected three of these migrants in particular, differing by class, location, personality, and gender, and interviewed them extensively, becoming part of their lives, driving them places, and getting to know others in their social and family circles. She tells the story of the migration primarily as their stories, but with additional information about the broader picture, both from statistics/research, and from newspaper accounts of the relevant time periods.

This worked incredibly well for me. I normally love abstraction, and statistics, and don't want my non-fiction personalized. But not this time.

The treatment of black people in the US is an ugly topic, with ever more revelations of despicable behaviour under every rock. I don't enjoy learning about it, but it's something I feel that every thinking person in the US needs to be aware of. But material stuffed full of abstractions just engages my critical thinking/defensiveness in this area. Whereas stories I believe to be accurate communicate with both my head and my heart.

The author's intermittent mention of the statistics also helps. That and her discussion of her research methodology let me trust that she's not ax-grinding to the point of falsification, and selecting (or even inventing) stories and vignettes primarily to prove a political point.

Yes, she has some specific points she wants to communicate:
- the best way to understand the experience of the participants is to think of it as similar to that of immigrants from outside the US
- the new arrivals didn't lower the northern black average in any meaningful way. Those who moved were better educated on average than those they left behind, though less than the blacks already in the north. They worked harder, on average, and made more money, in spite of being paid less than those already there, never mind than white folks. They were more likely to be and stay married too. (I recognize the popular mythology she's trying to debunk here.)

Problems were caused for everyone by the sheer number of immigrants, and the small geographical areas in which their white neighbours were willing to let them live.They weren't caused by the nature and habits of the migrants. (I've seen this story before, except last time it was about poor white people in Victorian London, with the space where they were able to live constantly being reduced by "slum clearance". Conditions in the remaining slums/affordable areas got more and more frightful, as the population per acre increased.)

She's also clear that while the migration improved conditions for most of those who moved, and eventually helped to bring an end to overt discrimination in the south (Jim Crow), there was plenty of discrimination in the north as well, and much of it was implicit rather than explicit, leading to a constant dangerous guessing game. Better jobs - and better pay - and often union membership - went to white people. Usually. And higher rent for similar conditions went to black people, or rather to anyone in the only areas where blacks were welcome.

She also doesn't hide the ways in which black people harmed other black people, and some of the motives, from attempts at self protection to simple power struggles. They come into the book when they are relevant to the stories, reinforcing my sense that this is a fair and honest account.

Overall, an excellent book. I've learned rather more of the ugly details of black mistreatment in the US, and a lot more about how black people coped. And what I already knew is much better contextualized as to place and time. ( )
2 vote ArlieS | Apr 6, 2022 |
This is both a thorough and meticulous account of the millions of Black Americans who fled the South, from the end of the First World War until the 1970s, for the greater opportunities and freedoms promised by cities in the north and west. Those opportunities were not without risks and racism was embedded in the states outside of the Jim Crow South, just in different ways, but there was the hope of a better, less constrained life and the migrants were willing to work hard to make a place for themselves.

While this is a sizable book, it reads surprisingly quickly. Wilkerson used the lives of three individuals as stand-ins for the larger experience, making the book read almost like a novel. I was deeply invested in the lives of Ida Mae, George and Robert. There's a reason this book won so many awards and I'll grab a copy of Wilkerson's latest book, [Caste], as soon as possible. ( )
  RidgewayGirl | Apr 3, 2022 |
This is essentially three life stories of three different and similar people. They are all black Americans and grew up in the South in the 1920s-1940s. They all left the South because of the segregation and sought a better life in the North (a.k.a. "the other sun" of the book title). Ida Mae was a sharecropper in Mississippi whose cousin got beaten up by her white landlord because he suspected the cousin of stealing his turkeys (he didn't). She and her husband left for Chicago in the 1930s and became factory workers. George was picking citrus fruit in Florida until in the 1940s he learned of white people's plans to kill him for his audacity in asking for higher wages. He then fled to New York City and worked for the train system. Robert was highly educated as a surgeon, married a woman of highest black society in Atlanta, but couldn't get a job at his local Mississippi hospital in the 1950s because of his race. He moved to California, opened his own practice, and became Ray Charle's personal physician. The book traced each of the three people's childhood, young adulthood, migration to the North, how they adjusted to the new life, the new careers they had, how their family fared in the long run, their disappointments, their old age and ailments, their death.....Basically it's like reading three (very well-written) biographies. While telling the three life stories, the author would add in here and there a chapter on the historical, social, and political significance of the times they lived in. One very interesting information I learned from these extra chapters is there was an "underground railroad" type of arrangement that rescue civil activists imprisoned in the South to the North. It involved 4 cars with Alabama license plates, 4 cars with Mississippi license plates, and a fake coffin loaded onto a train to Chicago. It's awesome.

I got into this book a little worried it would be a bleak story that makes me feel depressed. But it turns out I enjoyed the reading experience, because even though the three individuals dealt with hardship in their early lives, things got better. And I knew things would get better, so I didn't feel bummed down during the unhappy parts but was eager to continue reading until I get to the other side. It's a book that lets you experience hope. ( )
  CathyChou | Mar 11, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 160 (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
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Canonical LCC
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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