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

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
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May 08, 12

bookshelves: biography, history, journalism, best-book-i-read-in-2012
Read from May 04 to 06, 2012

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney and her husband George left Chickasaw County, Mississippi where she and her husband were cotton pickers to go to Chicago in 1937 and eventually got hospital and factory work. George Starling and his wife Inez left the orange groves of Eustis, Florida for Harlem and a job as a Pullman porter in 1943. Robert Joseph Pershing Foster was a board-accredited surgeon who left Monroe, Louisiana and various southern cities where he’d been to school and trained for Los Angeles in 1953. “Across the South, someone was hanged or burned alive every four days from 1889 to 1929.” (39)

The Great Migration, according to the author, occurred from 1916 to the 1970’s. African Americans from the South moved, six million of them, often at great personal and emotional cost, to the North and West. Ida Mae’s cousin was nearly beaten to death, because some turkeys had wandered away. George was organizing citrus pickers for higher wages and a neighbor overheard and reported back to George that the owners wanted him dead. Robert had had enough of the Jim Crow South. He wanted privileges at a reputable hospital. He wanted to prove that he’d done the right thing in moving his family to Los Angeles to his domineering father- in- law.

It’s these personal stories that I liked most about this book. The history and sociology eventually were less interesting to me—they grew repetitive and distracting, which seemed to be a editorial flaw—when what I wanted to read more about was Ida Mae, George and Robert. I also think the author buried the lead in not reporting on Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s “tangle of pathology,” wrong and offensiveness until page 261. I really like how Wilkerson uses poetry and literature to tell her story in other ways such as this: “I pick up my life and take it with me/ And put it down in Chicago, Detroit/ Buffalo, Scranton… I pick up my life/ And take it on the train to Los Angeles, Bakersfield/ Seattle, Oakland, Salt Lake, any place that is/ North and West—and not South.” Langston Hughes (177)

“[Robert] imagined a whole world just waiting for him to get there, people living the high life in Los Angeles and building businesses in Oakland.” (188) George told the author many years later about what he imagined when he first arrived in Harlem: “I was hoping. I was hoping I would be able to live as a man and express myself in a manly way without the fear of getting lynched at night.” (229)

This is a wonderful book that I am very glad I read for the Messy Housekeeper's Bookclub discussion on 5/30/12. Now-- should I make sweet potato pie or (make again) the chocolate pie I made for our discussion of The Help?
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