The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Journey of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

by belinda
0 comment

Good Reads Summary

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. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.

With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.

Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.

My Thoughts (spoiler-free)

I have wanted to read this book for years and have owned it for many years. This year I did my first buddy read on Youtube with Alba from Seriala. I am so glad I did, because not only did it help me move forward on our schedule but our weekly emails discussing the book were so educational and enjoyable.

The way Isabel Wilkerson told the story was brilliant. Rather than spew off facts from her years of interviews, she focused on three different people from three different areas down south and followed their life stories over the years. The three main characters were Ida Mae Gladney from Mississipi and migrated to Chicago, Robert Foster of Louisiana and migrated to California and George Starling who migrated from Florida to Harlem.

She brilliantly chose three people that migrated at different times so that she could also include a wider historical context throughout the book. In addition to the years of interviews, she used census documents, newspapers and other documents to build the context of the times for each person.

I spent a lot of time, writing in this book to mark places I wanted to remember and to leave comments. I also spent a lot of time holding my breath at some of the horrific events such as lynchings that occurred and were documented with great detail. Often we all shy away from the hard history but we only grow when we challenge ourselves and I feel like there were many moments in this book that I felt challenged. This book also did a great job debunking misconceptions about the people that were migrating regarding their education and marital status.

This book definitely deserves all of the rave reviews. I’m so happy I finally read it!

Related Posts