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.
I won't lie, when this book arrived in the post, I was a little intimidated by the size of it. It's quite the beast! And not only is it huge but the font is tiny and the subject matter itself isn't exactly a light and breezy one. However, very quickly into reading it I realised what an important read this would be and what an excellent book club choice it was by one my friends.
The Warmth of Other Suns is a beautifully written account of 3 people's lives and how their journey during the Great Migration shaped who they would grow up to be and have an ever lasting affect on the future generations of their families.
Wilkerson approaches such a historical and monumental topic in an incredibly clever way. Rather than hounding us with loads of facts and stats, she focuses on how she can make this topic a story and really puts story telling at the heart. By focusing on 3 people, we are able to experience the different challenges that they faced and it still gives us a holistic view of the many journeys taken by millions of people during this time. The reader can really digest the various stories without feeling overwhelmed by too much information.
The level of research that Wilkerson undertook to create this book is unbelievable! She interviewed over 1,000 people and spent about 10 years researching and getting to know Ida Mae, George and Robert so that she could really paint a picture of what so many millions of people want through.
I learnt so much from reading this book. From the level of atrocity and violence that so many black people experience across the southern states of America, to the challenges and prejudice that they continued to face even then they had supposedly entered the more free states.
IN 3 WORDS/PHRASES:
'I can conceive of no Negro native to this country who has not, by the age of puberty, been irreparably scarred by the conditions of his life...
The wonder is not that so many are ruined but that so many survive.'
I'm not sure this really applies to this book, each of the 3 main characters were so interesting but if I had to choose I would go with Ida Mae.