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

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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 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.

622 pages, Paperback

First published September 7, 2010

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Isabel Wilkerson

7 books6,620 followers

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Profile Image for Brina.
876 reviews4 followers
February 6, 2017
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 dream.

Ida 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 equally compelling lives. George Swanson Starling was smuggled out of Florida in 1943 and lived in Harlem for the rest of his life, yet never quite 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.
Profile Image for JJ.
73 reviews
June 16, 2020
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 Migration

Somewhere 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 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 more, 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 the most poignant 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.
Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,270 followers
October 23, 2013
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.

great migration

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 more 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 more 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.
Profile Image for Julie .
3,975 reviews58.9k followers
February 19, 2021
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson is a 2010 Random House publication.

Exceptional!

It is seldom that a nonfiction book, especially one covering an incredibly detailed history, is both densely informative and compulsively readable.

This is my ‘Black History Month’ read- and I can honestly say, I couldn’t have made a better choice for such an occasion.

The book covers the migration out of the south from the early 1900s all the way through to the 1970s, and follows three African- Americans- Ida Brandon Gladney, who made it all the way from Mississippi to Chicago, George Swanson Starling, who traveled from Florida to New York, and Joseph Pershing Foster, who left Louisiana for Los Angeles, California. While their ultimate destinations were still not always ideal, meaning they still encountered harsh racism and segregation, they were afforded more freedom.

The three main subjects are not the only people the author includes in the book, sporadically weaving in tales about others who migrated out of the South, which paints a full picture of how and why these decisions to relocate changed the dynamics in other parts of the United States.

The amount of research that went into this book is astounding. The stories are personable and real, allowing one to visualize the journey through the eyes of the Ida, George, and Joseph- by putting the reader in their shoes, and into situations that really makes one think.

This book is ambitious and immense. It dispels myths, recalls important traditions, and chronicles the challenges, setbacks and disappointments facing those who only wished to achieve freedom and a better life. The journey, though long and arduous, paved with adversity and tribulation, is also one of triumph and success.

The struggles are still here, obviously, but these stories are a reminder of what can be accomplished when one has the courage, not only to take chances and make changes, but to also make a difference for themselves and for the benefit of future generations.

Five big epic stars!
Profile Image for Jo.
178 reviews
August 7, 2017
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.

Profile Image for Beata.
698 reviews1,059 followers
July 11, 2019
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 more 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!
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,493 followers
June 2, 2020
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 more education even than the northern white population they joined. And contrary to common belief, the black migrants were more 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.
119 reviews7 followers
November 11, 2010
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.
Profile Image for Candi.
598 reviews4,534 followers
August 1, 2020
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 more than 1,000 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 question 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?"
Profile Image for Liz.
1,917 reviews2,353 followers
July 1, 2020
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 Migration
It’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.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,323 followers
July 15, 2015

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 more. 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 more 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: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...

Again WOW! This was so good. I learned so much and felt so much -- the perfect reading (or listening) experience.
Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 6 books50.6k followers
January 29, 2020
This was excellent, and I'm so glad I finally took the time to read this justifiably long and essential read about a slice of forgotten American history detailing the decades-long migration of almost six million black citizens from the South to the North and West between 1915 and 1970, hoping for a better life, and how their resettlement changed the face of America.

Wilkerson focuses on the stories of three individuals, giving us both an intimate portrayal and Big Picture view of what they experienced and how this changed the country.

I listened to the audiobook, and while the narration was excellent, I struggled mightily during the first third of the book where Wilkerson lays out her premise and the contours of history. For that reason, I would have preferred to read this on paper. But once the stories of the three families she follows take over, I didn't want to stop listening.
Profile Image for Leslie.
285 reviews104 followers
October 21, 2020
My Uncle Jerry appreciated this book so much that when he finished reading it, he sent me his hardcover copy through the mail in order to make sure I read it! I hail from Detroit, and some of my elders, there---knowing how much I read and write---told me it was an ABSOLUTE MUST-READ. Nobody lied! This book is a powerful, sensitive, exhaustively researched and compellingly composed and important work of “narrative nonfiction” written by journalist-turned-griot, Isabel Wilkerson.

It has been easy to encapsulate, segregate, and over-simplify the black American experience in a way that says blacks were slaves freed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and afterward, made little appearances and contributions to American culture here and there until the great match known as the Civil Rights Movement was struck to flint in the middle of the 20th century, and now look! the nations’s 44th President is an African-American man!

Well, this book is here with corrections, enlightenment, celebration, mourning, and statistics. This American history of The Great Migration (1915-1970) connects the dots and fills in the blanks in a way that hasn’t been done before. Imagine reading novels by Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Ernest Gaines,Toni Morrison, and J. California Cooper folded in with oral histories, newspaper archives, census reports, and commissioned sociological research---thought about and written in a new way.

I grew up in Detroit raised with southern black folkways and up-and-coming northern folkways. One side of my family left Mississippi in the first decade of the 20th century, later hooking-up with the other side of my family, who migrated from Alabama in the 1940s and 50s.

Reading The Warmth of Other Suns is like being an Israelite and reading about yourself and your family in the Old Testament of the Bible!
Profile Image for Christy.
113 reviews270 followers
November 26, 2017
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 more 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."
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,395 followers
March 18, 2018
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 more. 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.
Profile Image for Monica.
573 reviews611 followers
November 23, 2017
It's quite intimidating to try and craft a review for this amazing book. I have a much harder time reviewing a book that I adore, than books that I liked. This wasn't the best book I've ever read, but it is the book that has affected me the most in terms of the foundations of my own family.  This book unmasked me and taught me how much I didn't know about where I came from. 
 
On its face this is a history book about a period in time in American history between WWI and the Vietnam War.  What's strange is that until Wilkerson put together this book; there was very little recognition or acknowledgement of the migration during the time. It's strange because it was huge (approximately 5 million people).  It takes a tremendous amount of self-delusion and obtuseness to miss this phenomenon…and yet the idea of a huge population shift in the US is a sort of footnote in history.  Glossed over or superficially covered as a reaction to the industrialization of the country towards war.  Enter Isabel Wilkerson with a different take.  Actually the population shifts were due to untenable conditions in the South as well as huge labor shortages and promises of prosperity in the north. History remembers the bus boycotts in Alabama but not the legions of people that fled the conditions in Alabama.  Remembers the heroics but not the convention or the actual state of affairs.
 
Wilkerson defines the movement by chronicling the stories of 3 very different (and in many ways very similar) families and circumstances.  Through the telling of the stories, she weaves events and details that add historical context and gravitas.  The is the story of Ida Mae Gladney, the sharecroppers wife from Alabama migrating in the late 1930s; George Swanson Starling an educated fruit picker from Florida migrating in the mid-1940s.  And Robert Pershing Foster, a WWII doctor immigrating in the early 1950s.  Each of her subjects started in a different area of the South and relocated to a different area of the country.  The racial attitudes in the country and fights for civil rights are well documented in history.  Wilkerson choose to investigate the similarities and differences to each of the regions that her subjects relocated as well as highlight some of the differences in their points (and time frames) of origins.  She also examines what happened to the people left behind. How the great migration inevitably spawned innovation in the South to make up for the labor shortage. She chronicled how people in the South were duped, cajoled and threatened into staying. An interesting point that Wilkerson makes is that much of the technological innovation in the South is the result of the loss of cheap labor. It's hard not to be cynical. The only way a broad section of people could be pulled kicking and screaming from terrorizing, sublimating and oppressing an entire race of people based on skin color alone was not ethics or human decency. It was the prospect of plummeting wealth.
With the benefit of hindsight, the century between Reconstruction and the end of the Great Migration perhaps may be seen as a necessary stage of upheaval. It was a transition from an era when one race owned another; to an era when the dominant class gave up ownership but kept control over the people it once had owned, at all costs, using violence even; to the eventual acceptance of the servant caste into the mainstream.
Whoa Wilkerson, this is a chilling statement. Shades of this mindset are still plentiful in today's culture.

There were quite a few shortcomings in the book as well. The sheer scope of the subject matter makes it difficult to chronicle adequately. There are some very major events that occurred during this time that are glossed over or completely left out of the narrative. By allowing 3 people to lead the narrative, there is a treatment of the subjects that inadvertently elevates their standing and character. Wilkerson glosses over and avoids the flaws specifically in Robert Pershing Foster and George Swanson Starling, only showcasing the flaws to point out the mindset, culture or environment not the shortcomings of the men. Wilkerson never directly addresses these flaws (Starling abandonment of his wife, Fosters implied drug use, gambling, and narcisism). The characterization of Ida Mae Gladney had the opposite effect. There were no cracks in the façade, which I think is an unfair characterization. But the main issue I had with Ida Mae was that she had very little story of her own. Most of Ida Mae's story centered around her issues raising her family and keeping a home. Her place in the world was as a wife and mother. In my view, the black woman's experience was not as chronicled as the men. A part of me acknowledges that there is something to the timeframe and culture that the story was told. But we didn't get to know much about Ida Mae, her desires, her dreams. Perhaps that's a testimony in itself to how black women were viewed the world and their options. Still, it would have been interesting if Wilkerson could have found a black female whose story was different from or in addition to matriarch. In a year when Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race is a huge success, we know such women existed; just not from this book. But in comparison to the actual story told, these issues are minor. Wilkerson has written a stunning book.

After several passages in the book, I frequently started questioning my mother about our family's migration journey. For me, Ida Mae Gladney could easily have been Willie Mae my mother's mother. Per her birth certificate, my mother was born in Blacksher, Alabama in the late 1930s. The town of Blacksher is but a dot maps. There is no real record of the town. It is according to the 1980 census, "A populated place that is not a census designated or incorporated place having an official federally recognized name." I have surmised that the area name is based on a man name John Uriah Blacksher a lumber magnate in the area. She has memories of her and her brothers playing in the fields outdoors and her father working in the lumber yards. She doesn't remember entirely when they migrated to the eastern Ohio area. My grandfather Jack worked in the steel mills. Her earliest memory of Ohio is of an aircraft flying overhead. She remembers it terrifying her and there wasn't anything like it in Alabama. I think this puts her at around 5-6 years old (early 40s). She is the oldest of 7 children, but only 3 were born in Alabama. She doesn't know why they migrated to eastern Ohio. She recalls that they owned property in Alabama at the time that they left. As a testimony to how life changing this book is I will say that one year ago, I knew very little of my family background on my mother's side. This book helps me to fill the gaps with hope and some knowledge of the ages. I'm happy that my mother is alive and well to tell me stories and recount some family history. Though I know quite a bit about her life, I know little about my grandparents' lives. What Wilkerson has done here is to connect me to American history and my family history. It's hard to write what that means to me. My gr friend Shannon once wrote that after reading the last page, she closed the book and just hugged it. That is how it felt for me too.

5 Amazing Stars

Read on my kindle
Profile Image for Dianne.
549 reviews882 followers
February 22, 2015
I loved this!! If you haven't read it, you are missing something astonishing and deeply moving. Wilkerson shows us the migration of blacks from the south to the north from 1915 through 1970 through the lives of three main characters - Ida Mae Gladney (Chickasaw County, Mississippi to Chicago), George Swanson Starling (Wildwood, Florida to New York City), and Robert Pershing Foster (Monroe, Louisiana to Los Angeles). Three very different people with different stories over different decades, but these three humanize the scholarly research Wilkerson weaves into her tales.

On a personal note, Ida Mae Gladney's story on the Chicago migration was particularly meaningful to me. My own maternal grandparents were first generation Polish immigrants in Chicago and lived on the South side of Chicago with my mother and her sisters in an apartment complex occupied by blacks and various eastern European immigrants. My grandparents, aunts and my mother were able to save up and purchase a house in the suburb of Cicero in 1951. Cicero was mainly comprised at that time of Polish, Slav, Czech and Italian first and second generation immigrants who themselves had fled the cramped low income housing of South Chicago. That same year, a college-educated World War II veteran named Harvey Clark, who happened to be black, tried to move his family from a Chicago tenement to a more spacious apartment in Cicero. When Mr. Clark tried to move his family into the apartment, it touched off an ugly race riot in Cicero, which ended with the apartment building being set afire and all of his belongings burned. It has always been fascinating to me how immigrants turn on the immigrants that follow them.

http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_ev...

My grandparents, aunts and my mother moved into their home in Cicero one month after that event, only blocks away. I had no idea this had ever happened!! I fell down a rabbit hole and spent quite a bit of time poking around the history of that event. One of my favorite discoveries was that the daughter of Mr. Clark, Michele Clark, went on to become the first black female network TV reporter - driven, perhaps, by what she lived through in her youth:

http://mije.org/mmcsi/general/first-b...

But I digress - just one of the many, many fascinating tidbits that consumed me as I absorbed this book. I learned so much. This is a book that will stay with you for a long time. Educating, illuminating and heart wrenching. Highly recommend.

Profile Image for Shannon.
121 reviews99 followers
December 24, 2016
With the turn of each page, I wished there was one to replace it. The book was written to document the Great Migration, when approximately six million African Americans fled the South to live in other parts of the country. But it captures so much more than that.

I did not understand the enormity of this movement, until I read this statistic: Before the Great Migration only 10% of African Americans lived outside of the South. After the Great Migration, approximately 47% did. As the author so eloquently stated, “ It was the first big step the nations servant class ever took without asking.”

Thoroughly researched and impeccably pulled together, The Warmth of Other Suns contains more African American history than I learned in all of my K-12 years combined. While lost in this book, I came to admire, cheer for, and feel for the 3 individuals whose stories are beautifully woven into the overarching theme. With each of them sometimes joyfully and sometimes painfully reliving the details of their own decisions to make the migration, it was not possible for me to put this book down before knowing how their lives ultimately turned out.

This book highlights the efforts put forth to end the migration and the rude awakening once migrants learned that even after the journey, things would not be easy. Those making the trek by train were free to move between cars for colored passengers and non-colored passengers only after mid-trip, when the lines dividing the North and the South were crossed. Those driving, after determining they were too tired to drive any more, were forced to fall in line behind other cars along the side of the road to rest, because motels were not made available for them to sleep.

After reading that some individuals were brought to tears while recalling the details of their journey, my threshold for empathizing increased 1000 fold. Something about the expression, “Just get over it” no longer sits right with me. People do not harbor pain with memories for 50 years because they can just get over it.

Even if I read another 5000 books in my lifetime, when it’s all said and done, The Warmth of Other Suns will for sure make my list of the best books I've ever read.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,127 reviews34.9k followers
February 19, 2021
Another great book club book. This was such a good book. Over 1,000 people were interviewed for this book. But ultimately the stories of 3 individuals are told. Amazing research. This book is about the mass migration from the south that changed the face of American. This is not a light book. It is heavy in so many ways. But oh is it good. Such a gifted and talented writer. This clearly was a work of love. Ten years in the making/researching. Isable Wilkerson has created a Masterpiece with this book. I highly recommend this book. I love books that not only educate me but make me think and feel. This book stays with you.

See more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com
Profile Image for Sue.
1,218 reviews512 followers
September 16, 2011
Excellent history of the movement of American blacks out of the southern states and into the north and west of the U.S. to escape the impact of the continuing Jim Crow laws on every facet of their lives. Wilkerson has found three exemplars of this internal migration who individually moved to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, three of the popular points due to railway lines and highways. Using these three individuals we learn some of the reasons black citizens without rights decided to make this major move, leaving all they knew behind, including their extended families.

Much that was presented here was new to me---I didn't know the full extent of the Jim Crow laws on the daily life of all black people in the south. Nor did I realize the difficulty of actually leaving the south behind. It seems like a different world from that in which I live.

The only fault I found with the book is the frequent repetition which I have seen mentioned elsewhere. It seems intended at times, to stress a point, as an accent. At other times it seems as if the author is writing for a casual reader who may just be dipping into the book at odd points. It does seem occasionally excessive, especially when the same anecdote is being repeated for the third or fourth time for no discernible reason. This does not add to an already strong story.

All in all, highly recommended as very educational and readable.
Profile Image for Jessaka.
853 reviews100 followers
July 5, 2019
When construction in California came to a halt around 1995, my husband, who worked in construction building homes as well as plumbing them, was out of work. So, we decided to buy a trailer and travel the U.S., stopping to look for work. We ended up in Mississippi, just across the Tennessee border from Memphis.

After being in Mississippi for 9 months, I couldn’t wait to leave. The racism was terrible, to put it mildly. My husband had warned me, but I didn’t listen. There was work in Mississippi, and my sister lived there. Good reasons to not listen. My husband found a job in Tunica building casinos on river boats along the Mississippi river.

Mississippi was much like the song, “Mister and Mississippi” that I sang as a child:

I can't recall my mother
I don't remember dad
Mister and Mississippi was all I ever had
Oh! I was born to wander
Oh! I was born to roam
And Mister and Mississippi
Made me feel at home.

My cradle was the river
My school a river boat
My teacher was a gambler
The slickest one a float
My teacher was a gambler
The slickest one a float
He taught me not to gamble
On a petti coat.
Oh! I was born to wander
I was born to roam
And Mister and Mississippi
Made me feel at home.

No, it wasn’t like that at all because it didn’t feel like home. Home is warm and comfortable. Home is where you feel safe and secure. Home is a lot of things to me, but it is never in the south.

Because I was white, other whites felt that it was okay to use the “N” word in front of me, and I was too timid to tell them what I felt. They used the “N” word so much that it felt like they had eye gnats around their eyes, gnats they couldn’t see but really bugged them. And while the blacks bugged them to death in their own minds, that is, I was bugged to death by the whites. I didn’t understand Mississippi. I was a foreigner as far as I could tell.

I recall being in a McDonald restaurant and hearing the person behind the counter put down blacks. “Blacks” was not the word he used. The put down was that they had voted for Bill Clinton and how stupid they were, etc. I remember saying, “There is nothing racist about you,” when a woman, who was sitting down eating her meal, told me to be careful because I could start a race riot. I also remember being told by a Realtor that we should always go in person when looking for a house to rent so the owner could see that we were white. Like I said, we lasted 9 months and just wanted to get out of there.

I had two black women friends that went to the same Buddhist group that I attended, which is where I met them. One of them had lived in Portland, Oregon but came back home. I asked her why, telling her that I couldn’t stand the racism here. She said that at least here she knew what people thought of her, but in Oregon they practiced political correct, so she never knew where she really stood. I felt that I would rather not know where I stood. Just be kind and civil. We left Mississippi, but it was no better in the panhandle of Florida, so we left there too after several months, too.

And as I write this I think now of California’s political correctness: I never knew that some of my friends there were racists. I assumed they thought like me. Then the bigly man in Washington made political correctness not okay. People could speak out. These friends must have thought that I thought as they did. I was shocked and disappointed by the things they had said. I left them just as I had left Mississippi and Florida.

As for this book, I had never known that the blacks left the south beginning in 1915 through 1970. I can see why. I just don’t see why they continue to stay to this day because I don’t think it is all that much better now, but actually it is way better than how hit was during slavery. It just could not make me stay.

This beautifully written and somewhat poetically written book was hard to put down. It was so well written and informative, and if it hadn’t won the Pulitzer Prize, it should have. And at least the author is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. It was much more than an historical novel, for the author wove stories about three black families who had fled the south. You lived their lives from the moment they left to the day they passed away.

But did the blacks find the warmth of other suns? Yes, to a large degree. Still, so much more has to be done to make people of color feel the comfort that they deserve, as the song “Mister and Mississippi” figuratively says:

I love a tiny village
A quiet country town
A house, a little garden
With kiddies runnin' 'round
You'd be a faithful husband
I'd be a trusty friend
Until I heard that steamboat
Comin' 'round the bend
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 279 books397k followers
November 8, 2013
This is one of those rare history books that makes history as fresh and relevant as local headlines, and as gripping as a novel. I'll admit that even with my background as an American history teacher, I didn't know much about the Great Migration of the early twentieth century, during which millions of African Americans left the Jim Crow South for the North and the West, permanently changing the demographics of the U.S. Wilkerson follows the lives of three such people in different decades, while augmenting their stories with anecdotes from many sources. The result is a riveting personal narrative, powerfully written, that may open your eyes (as it did mine) to part of our national history that needs much attention. Highly recommended to high school and above.
Profile Image for CoachJim.
155 reviews81 followers
July 10, 2022
Wilkerson introduces a section by describing the discovery by Edwin Hubble of a star that was “far, far away”. It was another sun. This becomes the symbol for the title “The Warmth of Other Suns.” It describes the dream of Black Americans living in the South that there was another sun, or world. A world where they could escape from Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan. A world not dominated by racism and the threat of lynching. A world with the potential for social equality and economic opportunity. This sowed the seeds of the Great Migration of Black Americans from the South to the Northern cities.

We have learned that the Pilgrims fled England for America to escape religious persecution, and that the Irish left for America because of the potato famine, and the escape of European Jews from the Nazis. We have read about the Oregon trail and the Gold Rush. We know about the people fleeing the Plains States during the dust bowl. All of these migrations are dwarfed by the millions of Black Americans who migrated to the cities of the North and West.

It is estimated that some six million southerners left from early in the Twentieth century until the 1970s (Page 9). Given the impact that the Great Migration had on American History it is a wonder that it isn’t more widely written about in the History books. The political impact of six million people who were not allowed to vote in the South that could now vote in the northern cities. The economic impact of the huge increase in the labor force in the North while the South wondered who was going to pick the cotton. The social impact of many White Americans now interacting with Black Americans.

Much was made of the deterioration of these cites due to the influx of poor migrants. The author, however, points out that these migrants were often better citizens than the longtime residents. Scholars have found that migrants were more the victims than the culprits of the poor conditions of the northern cities.

Another issue that is dealt with is that these migrants were not immigrants. They were already citizens of the United States. In many cases their forebears had been here longer than many of the current residents.

Wilkerson chooses three diverse individuals to follow as an illustration of the Great Migration. She chooses a mother, Ida Mae, who migrates from Mississippi to Chicago, George Starling, a common laborer, who migrates from Florida to New York City, and Robert Foster, a doctor, who migrates from Louisiana to Los Angeles. Each of these individuals and their families “left different parts of the South during different decades for different reasons and with different outcomes.” They all experienced difficulties and disappointments, but found some measure of satisfaction because they were the ones making the choices.

They believed with all that was in them that they’re better off for having made the Migration, that they may have made many mistakes in their lives, but leaving the South was not one of them.
(Page 524)


However, the migrants did not escape racism by moving into the northern cities. They merely replaced Jim Crow with de facto segregation. As they sought housing they found they were confined to small, crowded neighborhoods with exorbitant rents and often lacking many city services. In Harlem there was an effort to limit the settlements of Black Americans and many other communities tried to isolate them in a particular section. These efforts generally failed and the author makes an astute observation that:

The South, totalitarian and unyielding, was at that very moment succeeding at what white Harlem leaders were so desperately trying to do, that is, controlling the movements of blacks by controlling the minds of whites. (Page 250-251)


Much of the literature and history of racism in the United States deals in the abstract. These stories made it more real. You feel the fear of a man escaping to the north at night just ahead of a threat of lynching. You experience the dread as a family is attacked during the night by night riders searching for a man falsely accused of stealing some turkeys. You endure the difficulty of a man driving late into the night not being able to find a room because of the color of his skin.

This book, similar to the author’s other book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, was a difficult and depressing read. It required a couple of breaks, but it is an essential history for an understanding of an important event in American History.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,651 reviews1,485 followers
August 17, 2015
Through page 72: I am finding this book both intellectually interesting and emotionally gripping. That is exactly what I have been looking for. The book focuses on the lives of three blacks: Ida Mae who emigrated from Mississippi to Chicago in 1937, George who fled from Florida to NY in 1945 and finally Robert Pershing who left in 1953 seeking to establish himself in California. The book follow these three individual and others for 100 years, During two world wars, the Depression and the events that will lead to the crumbling of the Jim Crow laws and the southern caste system. I want to be emotionally moved; only in this way can I come to understand their experiences. Along the way I want to learn how America has been impacted by black history. I am not disappointed so far,

but wait...... here is what I think after reading more and more and more:

I did not finish this book, quite simply because what I want is to sink into another world. This book doesn't fit that bill. I read more than half, so I feel I can tell you what I observed, to help you decide if you want to read it. Although the book focuses on three individuals, as stated above, there are so many other stories, details and examples of the injustices experienced by the blacks in the US beginning at the turn of the 19th century that I became distracted and could not focus on the three individuals.

I know this sounds bizarre, but the book was too comprehensive. Someone is sure to protest and say that all these facts, all these injustices must be stated so the reader understands how it really was for Blacks living under the Jim Crow laws. Of course such a protest has some truth, but you can overdo anything. All the injustices listed, one after the other, were hard to swallow. The excessive details became distracting. The historical sections thrown in between the sections on the lives of Ida, George and Robert were distracting. In addition, I found myself less interested in Robert than in the other two. So there goes one third of my interest out the window. I feel the book should have focused more on the three individuals and skipped some of the other historical details.

I am not saying I disliked this book. I am not saying it isn't terribly interesting, but it didn't draw me in. That was the kind of book I was searching for. Some of the events told are horrible, and thus moving, but the historical sections are comprised of facts and histories and events piled on top of each other. In these sections the reader is not shown, but told and told and told. You will learn a lot from the book, but it is still predominantly a "history book". Other history books have pulled me in more. A superb history book, now that I cannot put down. Before you pick up this book be sure you are in the mood for a long, detailed, in-depth recounting of black people's history.

Maybe this book does deserve four stars, but it didn't fit what I thought I would get; I gave it three.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,850 reviews34.9k followers
January 20, 2012
Isabel Wilkerson is my new Hero!!!

She wrote a remarkable historical epic!! (Ambitious)...Over 10 years of research. The stories are heart wrenching. She gives us an in depth education about the Great American Migration in this country ---and manages to keep us completely engaged from start to finish. I admit --I was a little worried that this book would be too long ---I would 'drift-off' pretty soon (I was thinking---"I'll skip some parts") >>> but I couldn't do it.... I read EVERY WORD. I also lost a couple of days of 'real-life' in the outside world ---(but I'll get it back) ---

Things I got from this story: A much more understanding of the Jim Crow -racial caste system in the South.
I had the honor and privilege to read about REAL STORIES --of real people in this country and what they REALLY went through.
AND--- One must ask him or herself??? WHY the label "Migration"? --- (I don't want to give anything away).
I LOVED the way Isabel Wilkerson wrote this book (for people like me) ---who were asleep --missing holes in their education ---She was able to keep me interested yet make a profound difference. I cried in several places --- (I just was so so sorry)

With over 600 pages the only time I 'laughed' (as in OUT LOUD --a little relief maybe?) --was when sweet potatoes were on the loose on a train.

My guess is ---many people (people I know anyway) will run away from reading this book....(fear it). TOO LONG they will say....(too many other books to read, etc.) --- but I'm still with tears in my eyes over the extraordinary work-dedication-skill-mastery-etc. that it took for Isabel to produce this book--- It was a-page-Turning book ---(I can't imagine it was an easy task to pull off)!
I hope people read this book.

READ it as if ---(you've all the time in the world). Don't worry ---YOU'LL finish it! Then you've give yourself 5 stars. (proud that you are feeling what you are feeling ---knowing a little more of what you know ---Thanks to this beautiful author)
Profile Image for Taryn.
1,199 reviews188 followers
August 10, 2016
I was not at all sure I wanted to read this book. On the surface, it's a tough sell: 600 pages about the Great Migration. So, like, a really long book about people moving house? In what world would that be interesting?

Here's the thing, though: Isabel Wilkerson is a special kind of writer and researcher. She's not regurgitating facts. She's telling a story. Three stories, actually, of three very different people who all journeyed from the southern United States to the north in the mid-20th century. And, of course, their stories are all a lot more complicated than just picking up and moving from one part of the country to another.

Before reading The Warmth of Other Suns, I had heard the term “Jim Crow” but had no real idea of the horrifying reality behind it. I was grossly uneducated about white oppression of African Americans post-slavery. I had no idea I had so many gaping holes in my education. Even the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., beloved by elementary school teachers everywhere as the safe, unobjectionable way to teach the history of the civil rights movement and which Wilkerson touches upon through the lenses of her three subjects, was not nearly as non-violent and passive as I expected.

This is the kind of book that is perfect for audio. Sitting down with 600 pages of non-fiction in print can be daunting, but listening to an hour or two a day isn't scary. Narrator Robin Miles is a skilled reader, and brings all three individuals to life with expertly executed accents. I could have listened to her interpretation of Ida Mae's silky Mississippi drawl all day long.

Ultimately, I'm so glad I invested the time and mental energy The Warmth of Other Suns required of me, and if you choose to do the same, I can assure you, you won't regret it.

More book recommendations by me at www.readingwithhippos.com
Profile Image for Anne .
428 reviews336 followers
October 24, 2021
I put off reading The The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration for many years despite the rave reviews of my GR friends. I assumed that this work of non-fiction would be a dry slog. I could not have been more wrong. This book is a stunningly moving and engrossing page turner which I couldn't put down. Isabel Wilkerson not only gives facts and figures about the great migration but, more importantly, tells the story of the migration by narrating the lives of three people who were born in the Jim Crow South and fled North. They end up in different cities, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. We learn the stories of these migrants in great detail and depth from early childhood to their deaths. I grew to care about each one of these people and became completely engrossed in their lives. Given all that they went through I felt a mix of feelings for them from anger, pity, sadness and happiness. For those of you who have read this book, can you help smiling when you hear the name Ida Mae? What a gentle and wise soul. I will not forget her or the two other people whose lives we followed.

I listened to the audio recording of this book, narrated by the fabulous Robin Miles. Hearing her tell these stories can only have improved this book.

Books this good are the reason that I am stingy with 5 star ratings. If I rate a book 5 stars that's because it stands out as exceptional and made for a very special reading experience. At the risk of being redundant, this book is exceptional and very special.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,056 reviews683 followers
November 25, 2021
This book's description of the The Great Migration (1910-1970) of African Americans from the rural Southern United States to the urban Northeast, Midwest, and West is structured as the interweaving of three story lines. The first is a collection of oral histories from the individuals who experienced the Migration. The second is the telling of the biographies of three selected individuals who lived through the Migration. The third is an examination of newspaper accounts and scholarly and literary works of the era and more recent analyses of the Migration to recount the motivations, circumstances, and perceptions of the Migration into historical context.

The result of this interweaving of story lines is a very readable history interspersed with many anecdotes that maintain the typical reader's attention. The combination of three story lines into one also makes the book quite long (543 pages plus 79 pages of Acknowledgments and Notes). But it's a story that needs to be told, and it deserves to be read.

The following graph shows the percent of African Americans living in the south over time.

description

The movement from south to north of six million African-Americans over a period of sixty years (1919-1970) had many of the typical characteristics of other immigrant stories. But they were not typical immigrants in that they didn't need to become naturalized American citizens; they were already citizens. But they were leaving a part of the country that did not give them the rights of citizenship.

Hatred and fear of African Americans by white people in the South increased in the years following the Civil War. Over the post war years the rules and laws regarding segregation became more and more rigid and codified. It built up an anti-black environment in the South that certainly gave African-Americans plenty of reasons to want to leave. The examples recounted in the following extended quotation are almost beyond belief.
All the while newspapers were giving black violence top billing. The most breathless outrage reserved for any rumor of black male indiscretion toward a white woman all but guaranteeing a lynching. Sheriff’s deputies mysteriously found themselves unable to prevent the abduction of a black suspect from a jailhouse cell.

Newspapers alerted newspapers to the time and place of an upcoming lynching. In spectacles that sometime went on for hours black men and women were routinely tortured and mutilated then hanged or burned alive all before festive crowds as of many as several thousand white citizens, children in tow hoisted on their fathers’ shoulders to get a better view.

Fifteen thousand men, women, and children gathered to watch eighteen year old Jessie Washington as he was burned alive in Waco, Texas in May 1916. The crowd chanted “Burn, burn, burn,” as Washington was lowered into the flames. One father holding his son on his shoulders wanted to make sure his toddler saw it.

“My son can’t learn too young,” the father said.

Across the south someone was hanged or burned alive every four days 1889 to 1929 according to the 1933 book, The Tragedy of Lynching, for such alleged crimes as "stealing hogs, horse-stealing, poisoning mules, jumping labor contract, suspected of killing cattle, boastful remarks," or "trying to act like a white person." Sixty-six were killed after being accused of "insult to a white person." One was killed for stealing seventy-five cents.

Like the cotton growing in the field violence had become so much a part of the landscape that “perhaps most of the southern black population had witnessed a lynching in their own communities or knew people who had," wrote the historian Herbert Shapiro. "All blacks lived with the reality that no blacks were completely safe from lynching."(pg 39)
This is not from the book, but I'm including the following link as a point of interest that shows the number of lynchings by State, both black and white, from 1882-1968:
http://www.famous-trials.com/sheriffs...
It's interesting to note that lynchings occurred in non-southern states as well, just not as many.

As with all historical events the details are complicated, and as can be expected there were many reasons for the Migration. Economic reasons played a role since they were able to find jobs in the North. Their jobs tended to be the least desirable ones but nevertheless better than what they left. Some historians find other causes such as the boll weevil infestation of the 1920s. Others raise the advent of mechanical cotton pickers. The author of this book suggests that when all the causes are considered the lack of freedom imposed on their everyday lives in the South was a dominate reason for their leaving.

This book provides an up close look at the lives of three individuals that serve as example representatives of those who moved. One was a physician who moved from Louisiana to California, another was a working class woman who moved from Mississippi to Chicago, and the third a man who fled for is life—for attempted labor organizing—from Florida to New York City. Their experiences were both good and bad, and the degree to which they maintained ties and interest in the community they left varied.

I as a reader became emotionally attached to these three protagonist as the book described their efforts to secure a better life for themselves and their families. They were real life human beings, not the perfect heroines that I at first wanted them to become. They had their faults, made mistakes, and chose life paths that differed from my values in some cases, but they captured my heart. I shed a tear near the end of the book when I read of their eventual deaths.

This is history with a personal human touch of an often overlooked part of history. I highly recommend this book to all readers who appreciate learning about human struggles for freedom and a better life.

description
Members of the Great Migration, Chicago, 1918. (Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

The link below is to an excerpt from the book:
https://delanceyplace.com/view-archiv...

Here's a link to another excerpt from the book:
https://www.delanceyplace.com/view-ar...
Profile Image for Monica **can't read fast enough**.
1,022 reviews324 followers
February 19, 2019
I simply don't have the appropriate words to relate the immense impact that The Warmth of Other Suns has had on me. I consider this massive book absolutely required reading for everyone that is interested in the history and experiences of African Americans. It should be required reading for every high school student. I could not have read this book at a better time in my life. With the imminent fall out of our recent elections here in America, it is vital that we remember the horrors of the many injustices against African Americans. We have to know of the abuses and the aggression against a group of people whose only crime was being born black in America. We have to know about the overwhelming disenfranchisement of the people who were thought to be less than human. We have to see the moral and physical subjugation heaped upon an entire race of people that inevitably created systematic damage that is still being felt today.

Wilkerson delivers not only facts and statistics that are staggering and disheartening, but she delivers them with heart while revealing the humanity of the people who were quite literally forced from their homes and away from their families. Oftentimes fleeing in the middle of the night, without a word that they were leaving for fear of being forcibly tethered to a land and culture that had no respect for them as human beings and didn't value their lives further than the manual labor that they could provide. How devastating must it have been for free men and women to continue to have to 'steal themselves away' as if they were doing wrong in wanting true freedom? To have to literally drop what they were doing and flee from the promise of a lynching because they demanded fair pay? These examples are all the more unbelievable for being absolutely true and are made gut-wrenchingly relatable in this book.

The Warmth of Other Suns reads like family sagas and not at all like dry and disconnected historical facts. There are many instances in this book were I had to pause to fight back tears. The correlation to the lack of generational well being (forget generational wealth) to the injustices an abuses suffered by African Americans living in the south post Reconstruction, through Jim Crow, to the Civil Rights era, straight through modern times and spreading throughout our country is so staggering that it is painful to experience even through the pages of a book. How can a people expect to move each generation forward when the rules are constantly being rewritten in order to keep one subjugated? The lines are constantly being moved literally and figuratively. From the lines of social acceptance to the literal lines of voting districts to create the greatest and most harmful disenfranchisement of African Americans. So many obstacles are being placed to hamper progress and prosperity.

I could so easily write pages on the impact that this book has had on me, but I'm reining myself in now! I'll wrap up by saying that The Warmth of Other Suns is a brilliantly engaging, heart wrenching, and thought provoking book. This should be required reading for every high school student in America. I'm buying copies of this book for both of my adult children immediately. Don't be afraid of the size of this book, it lends itself beautifully to being picked up and put down. I read this over a few weeks by just investing an hour or two at a time, along with longer stretches of reading, while still reading other books as well. This is not only going on my favorite reads list for the year, but of all time. I will be thinking of this book for months down the line. As an African American woman myself, The Warmth of Other Suns makes me once again, pause and be grateful for all of the people who came before me whose triumphs came through their suffering. I am eternally grateful for those people who fought, struggled, suffered, cried, and died for the privileges that I have now.

Where you can find me:
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Twitter: @MonlatReader
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Goodreads Group: The Black Bookcase
Profile Image for Rachel Reads Ravenously.
1,789 reviews2,134 followers
September 20, 2021
Wow. And I mean WOW. What a book. I don’t think I’ve read anything like this before.

The Warmth of Other Suns chronicles The Great Migration, a period of time when black citizens fled the American South in favor of northern or western cities. Taking place from 1915 to 1970, this book focuses on the lives of three people: Ida Mae Gladney who left Mississippi to go to Chicago in the 1930’s, George Starling who left Florida in the 1940’s for New York, and Robert Foster who left Louisiana in the 1950’s for California.

It’s funny, nineteen years of schooling, four of which I was a history major in college, and I don’t remember every really learning about The Great Migration. Sure we spent a good chunk of time on the Oregon trail, about what happened when the Dust Bowl hit the south. But six million people fleeing persecution from racism in hope for a better life, within our own country? Nope. Not in the curriculum. Which is utterly mind blowing to me.

All three of the people in this book led such interesting, unique lives. I think the one that stood out to me the most was Dr. Robert Foster, probably because he migrated to Los Angeles where I was born and raised and hearing about my own city and the hopes, dreams, and disappointments Dr. Foster experienced really struck a cord with me. His whole life, wanting to be a doctor, wanting to be better, but not having the opportunities to really learn and grow in the south just really stuck with me. I’ll forever remember the parts of this book where he was traveling at night and needed a place to sleep but was turned down by every hotel on the way to California. It was just so devastating that no one would help this poor man when he needed it, those people were so cruel without even thinking they were. It completely blew my mind.

This book is Wilkerson’s masterpiece, hands down. I loved Caste when I read it earlier this year and I am so glad I picked up this book too. This is the kind of book I wish was worked into the education system more often, make it required reading for high schoolers and college students!
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