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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 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 uniue individuals Ida Mae Gladney who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago where she achieved uiet blue collar success and in old age voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and uick 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 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


10 thoughts on “The Warmth of Other Suns

  1. says:

    In 1994 Isabel Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism making her the first African American woman to do so Upon receiving this prestigious award Wilkerson a daughter of migrants paused to think of those who paved the way so that she could have the opportunity to earn such an honor Listing a who's who of prominent African Americans of the 20th century many had moved with their families during the Great Migration north or west in search of a better life Ray Charles Bill Russell Jesse Owens and numerous others began their life in the segregated south with no future and ended up famous because their parents had the foresight to leave Yet most Americans are familiar with the Bill Russells of the world; Wilkerson desired to introduce her readers to the average migrant who left The idea that became The Warmth of Other Suns The Epic Story of America's Great Migration had been born Wilkerson made the decision to research why African Americans left the south and over the next three years would interview countless migrants and their descendants to pinpoint and shed light on an often overlooked era in American history Between 1919 and 1970 millions of African Americans left their bleak lives and ended up in northern cities giving themselves and their children hope for the future Wilkerson chose for her subjects three people one each who migrated to New York Chicago and Los Angeles in search of attaining the American dreamIda Mae Brandon Gladney left Mississippi in 1937 and ended up in Chicago where she would live until her death in 2004 Living in a Jim Crow society with no hope for the future Ida Mae her husband George and their two children took the midnight train north to Milwaukee where Ida Mae's sister lived Eventually the family settled on Chicago's south side where they would find life long jobs in both factories or hospitals The children attended a desegregated school and one became a teacher Although blue collar jobs the Gladneys made the most of their opportunity never missing a day of work and even became long time home owners Ida Mae did not regret her decision at all because she knew that she would have had little future at all in a white supremacist south Chicago became her home and she lived as a proud citizen never missing an election and admired by all who knew her I was most captivated by Ida Mae's story because she was an immigrant to Chicago much like my paternal family in the 1910s Yet Wilkerson's other two subjects lead eually compelling lives George Swanson Starling was smuggled out of Florida in 1943 and lived in Harlem for the rest of his life yet never uite leaving the south Working as a porter on train routes between New York and Florida Starling became an advocate for African American passengers working at this profession for 35 years Even though it was a small step up from life in the south at least Starling knew that he was free to live his life as he pleased without the constant fear for his life In the end of his life Starling still managed to straddle both worlds Most successful by material standards was Robert Joseph Pershing Foster who moved from Monroe Louisiana to Los Angeles in 1953 An accomplished surgeon Foster had no rights to practice in the south even as the son in law to the president of a prestigious black college Foster knew of many other Monroe residents who ended up in Los Angeles and he viewed it as the ultimate land of opportunity Revered for his entire professional career Dr Foster was the personal physician of the likes of Ray Charles and even had a song written about him Las Vegas became a second home and Dr Foster never shied from the limelight Yet despite his appearances he still was a southerner and exhibited many insecurities during his life He told Wilkerson that he migrated so that his daughters could enjoy an upper class life free of discrimination Wilkerson won the Pulitzer while a journalist for the New York Times and her journalistic skills are evident throughout this book While a nonfiction book detailing fifty years of history the text read like a rich story reeling me in from the very first pages In addition to knowing how the history played out in time I wanted to find out how Ida Mae George and Dr Foster lived in relative comfort as northerners Wilkerson is the daughter of migrants herself and she showed both empathy and compassion toward her elderly subjects A gem of a book and a jewel detailing an often overlooked era of American history The Warmth of Other Suns easily rates 5 bright stars I look forward to reading Wilkerson's future masterpieces whenever she writes them


  2. says:

    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 SouthWilkerson 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 projectsIn 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 itWilkerson 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 uniue 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 them 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 historyIt 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 comeIn one of the most poignant uotes 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


  3. says:

    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 US 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 ualities 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 ineuality 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 meIf 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 longevityWilkerson 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


  4. says:

    When I reuested 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


  5. says:

    I wish I had it in my power to make this book reuired 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


  6. says:

    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 lightThe 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 uotes from the writers of the time the title comes from a Langston Hughes poem she also focuses on the lives of three uniue individuals who made the move in different decadesIda 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 physicianTheir 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 thereThere 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 humanityStill 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 uash 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 northernersI 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 uibbles 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 youAnd 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


  7. says:

    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 freuent 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


  8. says:

    The Warmth of Other Suns details the 70 year silent migration of Blacks from the Jim Crow South to the northern and western states Six million people made the move far outpacing any other migration within this country Wilkerson does a superb job of explaining what led to the migration and how it played out By using three individuals from three different locales and time periods she gives you a personal view in addition to the bare facts It worked well to keep me engaged and helped the book flow I wanted to read this in light of the current discussions over system racism Wilkerson outlines the multitude of ways racism in all its guises has led to wealth disparity She puts to lie several of the myths about the migration like it was mostly poorly educated cotton pickers who migrated Or that the migrants were a destabilizing influence on the cities they moved into Wilkerson has a way with words for example describing the railroad porters as the midwives of the Great MigrationIt’s not an easy book to read She details numerous examples of lynchings and massacres in the south and the northern race riots Whereas the South made its rules known the North was an open field of landmines to be negotiated I learned so much reading this book I strongly recommend it to everyone who has an interest in American history I’m thrilled that I have received an ARC of her upcoming book


  9. says:

    An amazing story about the mass migration of blacks fleeing to the North and West in order to escape the horrors of the Jim Crow south Isabel Wilkerson interviewed than 1000 people and spent years completing her thorough research This work of non fiction highlights the stories of three unrelated individuals Ida Mae Gladney Robert Foster and George Starling in their journeys from Mississippi to Chicago Louisiana to Los Angeles and Florida to New York City respectively The atrocities injustices struggles and triumphs are well documented and beautifully described I also appreciated the little snippets from such prominent individuals as Richard Wright Langston Hughes Mahalia Jackson and others that preceded each new chapter The ultimate uestion Ms Wilkerson asks is Were the people who left the South and their families better off for having done so? Was the loss of what they left behind worth what confronted them in the anonymous cities they fled to?


  10. says:

    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 SunsWilkerson writes a comprehensive multidimensional book about the great migration the move by millions of African Americans from the southern US 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 US 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 uotes 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 uotes 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 masterfullyThrough 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 southIt'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