In the future, people will probably mistake the the origin of the phrase the warmth of other suns to be this big book on America s Great Migration, when it fact Wilkerson credits the phrase to a poem of Richard Wright s that she uses as an 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 The beautiful, elegiac poem expresses regret one had to leave some of one s roots behind in order to transplant elsewhere Wilkerson interviewed about 1,200 people and did subsidiary research to collect corroborate enough impressions and remembrances that she felt comfortable in this period and could supply details others forgot I d be willing to bet she used techniques similar to those used by the author of one of my favorite histories, the award winning Russian journalist Svetlana Alexievich, who wrote Secondhand Time An Oral History of the Fall of the Soviet Union Alexievich s journalistic technique uses the general experience to elucidate the personal, though Wilkerson also did extensive interviews with the three main subjects of her narrative.The Great Migration covered the period 1915 1970 Wilkerson s own attention span covers a period of almost one hundred years, from 1915 2010 The three different sets of migrants whose lives she uses as examples did not know one another, and all three were alive when she began her research all three had died before she d finished George Starling moving up the eastern seaboard from Florida to Harlem in New York City Ida May Gladney moved from Mississippi to Chicago, part of the midwest migration and Robert Foster moved from Louisiana to California, an experience about which I knew the least The book is huge with detail It can t be rushed, and those who read or listen to it regularly, recognizing it may take weeks to get to it all, may enjoy it best There is a rhythm to the telling it is long form story telling, and it adheres to an oral tradition One can certainly make the case that, since Wilkerson conducted interviews for the bulk of her narrative, this is in a long line of family histories passed down orally from generation to generation The experiences she recounts fills in holes some discover in our own family histories We can now imagine what the migrants must have encountered In charts showing the movement of African Americans from the South to different parts of the country in the last century, Los Angeles and cities in California got only a third or smaller proportion of what Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Philadelphia settled Boston and New York were in between those two One incident Wilkerson recounted that shook me badly was the story of the attempted integration in the summer of 1951 in Cicero, an all white town on the southwest border of Chicago The mob mentality that took over the reason of the so called white people and it should be noted this was a broad swath of first and second generation European immigrants when they learned a black couple had rented an apartment is horrifying, terrifying to recount The couple s belongings and the apartment were destroyed on day one The next three days brought a full scale riot that needed the National Guard to subdue.Boston is not specifically mentioned in this history, but the New York experience plays a large part Wilkerson makes reference to the Northern Paradox, a term coined by the sociologist Gunnar Myrdal In the North, Myrdal wrote, almost everybody is against discrimination in general, but, at the same time, almost everybody practices discrimination in his own personal affairs that is, by not allowing blacks into unions or clubhouses, certain jobs, and white neighborhoods, indeed, avoiding social interaction overall Considering African Americans apparently occupied approximately 25% of the population in these two cities, I d have to agree that the discrimination, in Boston at least, is subtle, hidden, denied since most neighborhoods until recently were clearly segregated.Ida Mae Gladney left Mississippi for Chicago October 14, 1929, and eventually ended up voting for Barak Obama as senator of Illinois In describing cooking and eating corn bread the way it was made when she was coming up, she says Now you put you some butter and some buttermilk on it, she says, and it make you want to hurt yourself I ve never heard that phrase before, but it sure covers a number of addictive activities.In describing Dr Robert Joseph Pershing Foster s life in California, we get an indelible picture of the man by the way he remembered the clothing he and his wife wore at eventful moments in their lives He remembered one night in particular He was wearing a black mohair suit he ordered specifically for the occasion from the tailor who dressed Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra He wore a black tie with a burgundy stripe, a white tab collar shirt, gold cuff links, black shoes, black silk socks, and a white handkerchief with his initials, RPF, embroidered in silver Elsewhere he mentions this black mohair suit jacket has a silk lining in scarlet How can one begrudge a man who is so enthusiastic in his compositions There is such joy there.The last individual detailed in this book, George Swanson Starling, was memorable for what he did not accomplish His family held him back from finishing college, so George married an unsuitable woman and left home for the North It was spite, George would say of the decisions he made at that moment in his life That s why I preach today, Do not do spite, he said Spite does not pay It goes around and misses the object that you aim at and goes back and zaps you And you re the one who pays for it A truer lesson was never told.I used Whispersync to listen read Robin Miles narrates and her reading is perfect in pace and clarity Ken Burns gave an intro to the audio edition which was not reproduced in the kindle version He says, basically, This is must read nonfiction, essential to our understanding of race I loved this book and We haven t had this kind of history told in this way before Allowing this history to inform the construct that is your life will change that life a little bit. I wish I had it in my power to make this book required reading for everyone, at least all students When we cringe at the horrors waged against others in the world today, we need to remember our own not so distant history and take the lead in driving change. This is going to sound a little weird, but throughout my reading of The Warmth of Other Suns, which is primarily about the migration of black Americans from the Jim Crow South to western and northern U.S cities during a large portion of the 20th century, I kept thinking about my upper middle class white high school biology teacher, Mrs Ferry Mrs Ferry had a pretty significant impact on the direction my life took she was a vibrant older woman who demanded a lot from her students, and those qualities, combined with her sudden death mid year, sparked my lifelong interest in science But one of the things I ll always remember about her is a single conversation we had about her experiences living in Alabama in the 1950s She talked about segregation and inequality, about economic disparity, and about the brutal examples of injustice she had witnessed personally I listened to everything she said, but being a 15 year old at the time, I wasn t able to completely assimilate those horrors or understand what kinds of long term effects Jim Crow would have on the black people who lived under its harsh rule So in many ways, this book filled in some of the gaps for me.If nothing else, Isabel Wilkerson is thorough She covers the exodus of blacks from the Deep South beginning with the First World War right up through the end of the Civil Rights Movement, and even slightly beyond as its effects were not necessarily immediate in certain Southern strongholds Because this pattern of migration lasted for several generations, it was difficult to see it while it was happening, and most of its participants were virtually unaware that they were part of any statistical shift in black American residency, but in the end, six million black people left the South during these years And while Jim Crow is arguably the chief and perhaps even the sole reason for this migration, the backgrounds, experiences, and outcomes of these migrants ranged as widely as one might expect considering the movement s longevity.Wilkerson focuses on three biographies to describe the migration, each subject hailing from a different Southern state, each migrating in a different decade, and each carrying with him a different set of circumstances that factored into his decision to leave, yet they were all spiritually united in their desire to extricate themselves from a situation for which they saw no viable future The move itself wasn t easy for any of them, and often times the cities to which they migrated, while being free of government sanctioned segregation, were still riddled with racism and injustice Overall, this book did a lot to explain why some cities, and even some sections of those cities became predominantly black, and it was by no means a coincidence that they lay along primary railroad routes out of the South More than that, it did a lot to explain how those from Georgia and Florida migrated mostly to Boston and New York, those from Alabama and Mississippi moved to cities like Detroit and Chicago, and those from Louisiana and Texas went to Los Angeles and other West Coast cities While the logistics of black migration are interesting, and I was reminded of how awful conditions were for those living in the Jim Crow South, not to mention the difficulties that persisted even for the ones who left, Wilkerson tended to repeat herself a great deal And because she focused on the lives of the three migrants in particular, her story did not end with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but continued following these characters lives, the trajectories of which would become anecdotal in nature and less representative of their migrant generation, well into the 1990s It is clear she became attached to these people emotionally, which is certainly not a bad thing, but it is what caused it to drag a bit for me, even though I ordinarily find myself interested in the human interest aspect of history Regardless, The Warmth of Other Suns is solidly researched and serves as an important tool for better understanding the trials and tribulations of black Americans in the 20th century, trials that are altogether human, yet which I had not otherwise been exposed to outside of my Rhode Island prep school upbringing. When I requested this particular book, I had one goal to learn about the Great Migration and the Jim Crow aspect These were the terms I often came across while reading my friends reviews or some novels, and I admit I had no knowledge of what these terms stand for I understood the context, but I felt that was not enough After getting tired of my ignorance, I chose this non fiction after reading several wonderful reviews by my Friends Ms Wilkerson wrote a book that is long, but it cannot be short as the Great Migration took over 70 years, and she explains social, political and industrial aspect behind it through the lives of three African Americans and their families representing three waves of the Migration The Authoress even argues that in fact it was immigration rather than migration in the context of the reasons, the difficulties for the migrants to overcome and tough conditions they found themselves in after the arrival where they hoped to find safety and stability I was overwhelmed to learn how the US had changed owing to the influx of the African Americans to the North, and even by the fact that they were not that warmly embraced there This book was eye opening for me indeed and is a must if you are interested in the American culture in the broad sense Thank you to my GR Friends whose reviews brought this book to my attention I loved this book on several levels though with one caveat First and foremost, by narrating the lives of three very different participants in the Great Migration, Wilkerson fleshes out an important historical story that most of us know only in general outline, if that The details of routine racial discrimination that these individuals faced both before and after coming to the North are horrifyingly vivid and impossible to ignore Wilkerson s research is thorough and deep, and her somewhat controversial comparisons of African American migrants to immigrant populations strike me as particularly insightful Her prose can indeed be luminous at times But why, oh why, didn t her editor remove the frequent and maddening repetition of simple facts Ida Mae was terrible at picking cotton newspapers reported without apology the disparity between white and black teachers pay , often within a short span of pages As an editor, I may be unusually attuned to and distracted by this flaw but I know I m not the only one Given the monumental effort involved in researching and writing and marketing this book, I wish someone had given the final manuscript the detailed editorial attention it deserved. Isabel Wilkerson s The Warmth Of Other Suns is one of those rare books that cracks open the world and makes you see everything you thought you knew in a different light.The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist chronicles the massive migration of blacks from the Jim Crow South, where racism was still entrenched, to the North and West This happened from 1915 to 1970 and forever changed the country, especially the makeup of the big cities While Wilkerson s scope is large, and takes in history, labour, urban planning and sociology, and includes some beautiful quotes from the writers of the time the title comes from a Langston Hughes poem , she also focuses on the lives of three unique individuals who made the move in different decades.Ida Mae Brandon Gladney left the cotton farms of Mississippi for Chicago in 1937 George Starling, a bright and ambitious man who was run out of Florida for organizing fruit pickers, escaped to Harlem in 1945 and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster left his middle class Louisiana family in the 1950s to become a doctor, eventually making his way to Los Angeles, where he became, among other things, Ray Charles s personal physician.Their stories are as gripping, full of life and moving as anything in a novel Some scenes will stay with me forever, such as the account of Foster s long and lonely drive west, where, despite being out of the south, he could find no motel or hotel who would rent him a room all because of the colour of his skin Years later, when he s an established professional, Foster and his wife and friends are turned away from a Las Vegas hotel, even though Sammy Davis Junior is performing there.There are lynchings in the South, but there are fights, bombings and fires in the North The story of how one black family is shown it s not wanted in the largely white Chicago neighbourhood of Cicero will make you weep for humanity.Still, there is the possibility of freedom and opportunity in the north If not in one generation, then the next Wilkerson s list of famous African Americans whose families migrated north reads like a who s who of success Wilkerson uses scholarship to quash all misconceptions Black migrants from the South were on average better educated than those who stayed and soon would have a higher level of education than the blacks they joined The black migrants of the 1950s had education even than the northern white population they joined And contrary to common belief, the black migrants were likely to be married, remain married and less likely to bear children out of wedlock and head single parent households than black northerners.I also didn t realize that migration patterns were dependent on what transportation line was available Speaking of transportation, there s a theory that Newark, New Jersey became a popular destination because Southerners, unused to Yankee accents and not wanting to miss their stop, mistook the Penn Station, Newark for Penn Station, New York This book is filled with lots of fascinating details like this After reading this back in February, I ve since read books by James Baldwin and Maya Angelou, both of them part of the great migration north although Angelou s mother sent her back south to Alabama to be raised by her grandmother a common occurrence I have a few quibbles Wilkerson will often repeat stories to remind you of what s happened to a person before understandable in a book of this scope , but if you re a close and careful reader that might irritate you.And I wish there were some photos On the author s website, however, you can see some fantastic shots of her three subjects so you have a visual to go along with their unforgettable stories. After listening to The Warmth of Other Suns for close to two months in 40 minute increments on my walk to work every morning, the main thing I want to say is WOW This book is extraordinary in so many ways And I think I have to break my self imposed one paragraph rule for this review because there are so many dimensions to the Warmth of Other Suns.Wilkerson writes a comprehensive multidimensional book about the great migration the move by millions of African Americans from the southern U.S to the north from the 1920s to the 1970s She focuses on the lives of three people Ida May, George and Robert She has broken their life story into parallel segments starting with their southern childhoods all the way to the end of their lives Their narratives are interspersed with a wealth of information about the Jim Crow laws and life in the southern U.S after slavery, the history and sociology of the great migration, and the living conditions and politics in the north for the migrants And just to make the whole experience richer, she throws in many quotes from various African American writers and other historical figures It s fascinating, infuriating and inspiring from beginning to end I especially loved Wilkerson s depiction of Ida May, George and Robert She brings them to life as three dimensional complex people Their motivations, strength of character and flaws are painted through detailed anecdotes of their childhood, educational and work lives, family, spouses, what led them to migrate, their life after migration and the last years of their lives It s amazing that Wilkerson is able to provide such a detailed account of their lives, but she clearly spent hours interviewing them and others who knew them The narrator in the audio occasionally takes on their voices when she quotes them, bringing them to life even It s hard to avoid feeling the connection Wilkerson developed with them, especially at the end as she is very transparent about how close she became to them even accompanying Robert to doctors appointments and Ida May to than one funeral And Wilkerson so skilfully writes about them with respect but without ever over romanticizing them It s pathetic how little I knew about the great migration and the lives of southern African Americans in the earlier 20th century except in the broadest and simplest strokes Being Canadian is a poor excuse, especially pathetic since I lived in North Carolina in the late 1980s for a couple of years where the long term effects of segregation were certainly visible But this is part of Wilkerson s narrative that this massive human movement that has had huge repercussions on the lives of millions of individuals and the American landscape has until recently received very little mainstream attention and the attention it has received has tended to be over simplistic Wilkerson certainly manages to fill this gap, delivering so much information so masterfully.Through the details of the lives of Ida May, Robert and George, she conveys so much Images that will stick with me Robert s excruciating drive across the desert on his way to California where there were no motels where he could stay and it wasn t safe for him to stop on the side of the road to sleep when Ida May buys a house in a white middle class neighbourhood in Chicago, the house across the street literally disappears overnight and over the first year all of the houses owned by white Americans are sold to African American families George s fearless negotiations for higher wages in the Florida orange groves and his co workers fearful visit to the owner to tell him they weren t on side with George s demands and George s work on the railroad and the description of how when crossing from north to south the coloured cars had to be attached so that the railcars could be segregated for the ride into the south.It s a very long book, so if you listen to the audio, be prepared for the 20 hour plus narrative which occasionally feels a bit slow But overall the narration is very well done, nicely punctuated by the occasional imagined voices of Ida May, Robert and George On a final note, earlier this year I had the good fortune to stumble on Jacob Lawrence s paintings of the great migration at the MOMA while on a visit to New York I had never heard of them and it was such a gift to find these beautiful vivid paintings And the images in the paintings hovered in my mind as I listened to Wilkerson s book Here s a link to a book about his paintings WOW This was so good I learned so much and felt so much the perfect reading or listening experience. An excellent social history that I finally got to and through with the therapy of staring for days at the rocky Maine coast for a week I knew it would sucker punch me, as it did I flashbacked on how my old, undergraduate prof in Race and Ethnic Relations mentioned he was quiting teaching the course after over 20 years as it was discouraging so little progress was made Here I am in the same boat job wise, and I haven t taught it for a couple years but can t help fixating daily on race and the current US political disaster, on race and civil rights, on race and education, on race and incarneration, on race and class, really Only in America would life conditions trigger the largest, longest internal migration ever recorded in human history Ouch But we miserably failed at reconstruction and with the Jim Crow south those White, urban centers somehow seemed less scary I m glad Wilkerson traced the life story of one woman as well as the two men, because I do wonder how much in those often tight Black families it was the men of the day that were itching to head north, or if it was the womanfolk who were agitating Of course, poor women always worked so I m assuming that even in the early 20th century there was full time wage or piecemeal work for virtually all the Black women who moved north, too The migration was it s own kind of manifest destiny , even a collective pull for social stability for themselves and their families as well as the chance of social mobility.I ve become friends with a delightful student one my age, a rare Black man in Portland who just finished up his first college degree after a life of activism and leadership in mental health for African Americans, and he told me another jarring story hypocriphal of the Great Migration He remembers his gentle, loving grandfather telling him when he was a child about moving from Mississippi to St Louis Grandpa had a good job, but just trying to walk to it was a challenge as a burly Irish cop decided to make his life Hell Every day, the cop would wait for this Black interloper to walk through his neighborhood, and the harrassment escalated to beatings with the nightstick if nobody was around or even if other Whites laughed Eventually, Grandpa made it to the top of the buildling next to where the cop would often lurk down below on a corner, and dropped a concrete block down on him Did you kill him, Grandpa , my friend asked Grandpa just said I don t know, but I never saw him again. Thinking back, I tried to recall some of the migrations that took place within America that I had learned about The Gold Rush The Dustbowl MigrationSomewhere along the lines, my teachers forgot to mention the approximately six million people that left the Jim Crow South during 1915 1975, in search of a kinder mistress , and that they summoned up the courage, and risked their lives to drive cross country, illegally hop trains, and save for months to secure a train ticket headed to Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, etc This migration was similar to that of anyone crossing the Atlantic or the Rio Grande, except that these migrants were already citizens of this country, but just like other migrants, they were escaping the hardships of one part of their own country This daunting journey could be clear across the continent, and to a world that was completely foreign to them Many of these Americans never looked back Some blending into the crowds to never be heard from again, and some even changing their names to forever cut any ties to the South.Wilkerson herself was a product of this migration, as her parents left the South early on She had recognized the fact that this generation of Southerners was dwindling and that her time to gather information was limited She spent fifteen years of her life devoted to this book, and spent countless hours researching and interviewing approximately 1200 people, to tell a story she thought everyone should know Rightfully so, as this migration went on to shape America s urban cities, their culture, the geography of neighborhoods, and the beginnings of suburbanization and housing projects.In the beginning, I found it really difficult to read She detailed the brutality of the south, the injustices, lynchings, the degradation and despair I couldn t fathom growing up in the South during this time, being treated inhumanely and the hopelessness of ever rising above it.Wilkerson tells the stories of three migrants, Ida Mae Gladney, who left Mississippi for Chicago, George Starling who left Florida for New York, and finally Robert Pershing Foster who left Louisiana for Los Angeles Their stories are different and unique, yet they intertwine, and are interspersed with detailed facts about the migration and other stories of the South But in telling the stories of Ida, George and Robert, she personalized and humanized it You cried with them, you hoped for them, and you rooted for them In the end, I couldn t put it down I had to read , hoping they would make it How amazing it must have been to have sat with them and heard firsthand this bit of history.It is part journalism she is a Pulitzer prize winning journalist , part storytelling It s epic, it s heartbreaking, inspirational and educational I have learned so much from this book It is one of the best pieces of non fiction I have ever read I was intrigued and moved by it, and will carry their stories with me for many years to come.In one of my favorite quotes of this book, Robert said, How could it be that people were fighting to the death over something that was, in the end, so very ordinary Yes, something as ordinary as being free to go and do as you please, and to do something as ordinary as sitting in a diner with everyone else and eating a meal just as he had. 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 To , 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 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 OurselvesWith Stunning Historical Detail, Wilkerson Tells This Story Through The Lives Of Three Unique Individuals Ida Mae Gladney, Who In 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 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 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 PartiesWilkerson 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
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- The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
- Isabel Wilkerson
- 09 June 2019 Isabel Wilkerson