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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration Paperback – Oct 4 2011
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“A landmark piece of nonfiction . . . sure to hold many surprises for readers of any race or experience….A mesmerizing book that warrants comparison to The Promised Land, Nicholas Lemann’s study of the Great Migration’s early phase, and Common Ground, J. Anthony Lukas’s great, close-range look at racial strife in Boston….[Wilkerson’s] closeness with, and profound affection for, her subjects reflect her deep immersion in their stories and allow the reader to share that connection.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“The Warmth of Other Suns is a brilliant and stirring epic, the first book to cover the full half-century of the Great Migration… Wilkerson combines impressive research…with great narrative and literary power. Ms. Wilkerson does for the Great Migration what John Steinbeck did for the Okies in his fiction masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath; she humanizes history, giving it emotional and psychological depth.”—John Stauffer, Wall Street Journal
“[A] massive and masterly account of the Great Migration….A narrative epic rigorous enough to impress all but the crankiest of scholars, yet so immensely readable as to land the author a future place on Oprah’s couch.” —David Oshinsky, The New York Times Book Review (Cover Review)
“[A] deeply affecting, finely crafted and heroic book. . . .Wilkerson has taken on one of the most important demographic upheavals of the past century—a phenomenon whose dimensions and significance have eluded many a scholar—and told it through the lives of three people no one has ever heard of….This is narrative nonfiction, lyrical and tragic and fatalist. The story exposes; the story moves; the story ends. What Wilkerson urges, finally, isn’t argument at all; it’s compassion. Hush, and listen.” —Jill Lepore, The New Yorker
"The Warmth of Other Suns is epic in its reach and in its structure. Told in a voice that echoes the magic cadences of Toni Morrison or the folk wisdom of Zora Neale Hurston’s collected oral histories, Wilkerson’s book pulls not just the expanse of the migration into focus but its overall impact on politics, literature, music, sports — in the nation and the world."—Lynell George, Los Angeles Times
“One of the most lyrical and important books of the season."—David Shribman, Boston Globe
“[An] extraordinary and evocative work.”—The Washington Post
“Mesmerizing. . .”—Chicago Tribune
“Scholarly but very readable, this book, for all its rigor, is so absorbing, it should come with a caveat: Pick it up only when you can lose yourself entirely.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
"[An] indelible and compulsively readable portrait of race, class, and politics in 20th-century America. History is rarely distilled so finely.” Grade: A —Entertainment Weekly
“An astonishing work. . . . Isabel Wilkerson delivers! . . . With the precision of a surgeon, Wilkerson illuminates the stories of bold, faceless African-Americans who transformed cities and industries with their hard work and determination to provide their children with better lives.” —Essence
“Isabel Wilkerson’s majestic The Warmth of Other Suns shows that not everyone bloomed, but the migrants—Wilkerson prefers to think of them as domestic immigrants—remade the entire country, North and South. It’s a monumental job of writing and reporting that lives up to its subtitle: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.” —USA Today
“[A] sweeping history of the Great Migration. . . . The Warmth of Other Suns builds upon such purely academic works to make the migrant experience both accessible and emotionally compelling.” —NPR.org
“The Warmth of Other Suns is a beautifully written, in-depth analysis of what Wilkerson calls “one of the most underreported stories of the 20th century. . . A masterpiece that sheds light on a significant development in our nation’s history.” —The San Jose Mercury News
“The Warmth of Other Suns is a beautifully written book that, once begun, is nearly impossible to put aside. It is an unforgettable combination of tragedy and inspiration, and gripping subject matter and characters in a writing style that grabs the reader on Page 1 and never let’s go. . . . Woven into the tapestry of [three individuals] lives, in prose that is sweet to savor, Wilkerson tells the larger story, the general situation of life in the South for blacks. . . . If you read one only one book about history this year, read this. If you read only one book about African Americans this year, read this. If you read only one book this year, read this.” —The Free Lance Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
"A truly auspicious debut. . . . The author deftly intersperses [her characters'] stories with short vignettes about other individuals and consistently provides the bigger picture without interrupting the flow of the narrative…Wilkerson’s focus on the personal aspect lends her book a markedly different, more accessible tone. Her powerful storytelling style, as well, gives this decades-spanning history a welcome novelistic flavor. An impressive take on the Great Migration." —Kirkus, Starred Review
“[A] magnificent, extensively researched study of the great migration… The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Not since Alex Haley’s Roots has there been a history of equal literary quality where the writing surmounts the rhythmic soul of fiction, where the writer’s voice sings a song of redemptive glory as true as Faulkner’s southern cantatas.”—The San Francisco Examiner
“Profound, necessary and an absolute delight to read.” —Toni Morrison
“The Warmth of Other Suns is a sweeping and yet deeply personal tale of America’s hidden 20th century history - the long and difficult trek of Southern blacks to the northern and western cities. This is an epic for all Americans who want to understand the making of our modern nation.” —Tom Brokaw
“A seminal work of narrative nonfiction. . . . You will never forget these people.” —Gay Talese
“With compelling prose and considered analysis, Isabel Wilkerson has given us a landmark portrait of one of the most significant yet little-noted shifts in American history: the migration of African-Americans from the Jim Crow South to the cities of the North and West. It is a complicated tale, with an infinity of implications for questions of race, power, politics, religion, and class—implications that are unfolding even now. This book will be long remembered, and savored.” —Jon Meacham
“Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns is an American masterpiece, a stupendous literary success that channels the social sciences as iconic biography in order to tell a vast story of a people's reinvention of itself and of a nation—the first complete history of the Great Black Migration from start to finish, north, east, west.” —David Levering Lewis
“Isabel Wilkerson’s book is a masterful narrative of the rich wisdom and deep courage of a great people. Don’t miss it!” —Cornel West
About the Author
Isabel Wilkerson won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for her reporting as Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times. The award made her the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African American to win for individual reporting. She won the George Polk Award for her coverage of the Midwest and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for her research into the Great Migration. She has lectured on narrative writing at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University and has served as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and as the James M. Cox Jr. Professor of Journalism at Emory University. She is currently Professor of Journalism and Director of Narrative Nonfiction at Boston University. During the Great Migration, her parents journeyed from Georgia and southern Virginia to Washington, D.C., where she was born and reared. This is her first book.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The audiobook edition is excellent, beautifully performed. If you buy the e-book you can take advantage of Audible's special deal with parnt Amazon to buy the audio edition at a deep discount. You can even have Kindle and Audible keep you in sync between formats.
Unfortunately, Wilkerson also goes on a little too long here. This is a book that tends to repeat itself, adding unnecessary length to the narrative. And the book would have been better served by trimming back, at least a little, on some material, both in the personal stories and in reciting research.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is the story... no- make that the stories... of the "Great Migration", the migration of sharecroppers and others from the Cotton Belt to the Big Cities: New York, Chicago, Detroit, LA and etc in the period between the World Wars. Over one million blacks left the South and went North (or West). Of course we all know the tale of the "Dust Bowl" and the "Okies", as captured by Steinbeck in words, by Dorothea Lange in photographs, and even in song by Woody Guthrie. But this was as big or even bigger (estimates vary), and to this day the story has not been covered anywhere near as well as the "Dust Bowl" migrations.
Wilkerson's book has more than ten years of research in its making, and thus is a large and weighty volume at more than 600 pages. It is also personally researched, the author having interviewed over 1,200 people. She picked three dozen of those to interview in great depth, and choose but three of those stories to present to you here.
The title of this book is taken from Richard Wright's "Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth": "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."
This book is a not an easy summer read, mind you. At times both heartwarming and heartbreaking, at times so riveting you won't be able to put it down- but at other times so moving that you'll need to put it down for a while.
The author peppers her book with interesting side notes and anecdotes, such as when some of the migrants, being unfamiliar with a Northern accent, would mistakenly get off at the cry of "Penn Station, Newark," the stop just before Penn Station, New York. Many decided to stay there,according to Isabel , giving Newark "a good portion of its black population."
A personal note: My Dad got his Masters on the GI Bill, then took us to Los Angeles to be a teacher. He was partnered with a more experienced teacher- a lady we called "Miz Edna" who had migrated to LA from the South. Our families became friends, as also "Miz Edna's" husband had served in New Guinea with my father (as a cook, however, remember the WWII Army was still segregated) . I remember many of her stories, and especially her rich melodic voice, with just enough of the South remaining. Thus, I "heard" many of the quotations and personal stories here in "Miz Edna's" voice.
This is a deep and great book, I highly recommend it.
Arnesen, Eric. Black Protest and the Great Migration: A Brief History with Documents
Grossman, James R. Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration
Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America
Isabel Wilkerson did a mountain of research to tell this story. She conducted some 1,200 interviews and digested a huge volume of sociological data. Wisely, she concentrated her book on just three of those six million people --- a gutsy woman from the cotton plantations of Mississippi, an orange picker from central Florida and an aspiring doctor from Louisiana. Each of them left the south in a different decade and with different motivations. They met with varying degrees of success and disappointment. While they didn't achieve everything they had hoped for, none of them in their final assessment regretted their move.
Wilkerson plays off these three protagonists against a vast chorus of others whose stories vary wildly but all come down to the determination to leave behind intolerable social oppression and at least try their luck in freer air. Wilkerson herself, a child of two black immigrants from Georgia, is a part of that chorus. Her book is valuable on several levels. It documents in gut-wrenching detail the brutal way these migrants were treated in the region of their birth. It is honest about their own personal failings and the not-always beneficial effect that northern life had on them. It challenges the popular assumption that they themselves caused the problems that have made their life up north so difficult. It documents a different idea --- that much of the problem stems from their children, born in the north and unmindful of what their parents had to suffer to give them a shot at a better life.
The book is gracefully written. Its level of personal detail gives readers the impression that its subjects had total recall as they spoke into Wilkerson's tape recorder. She has also elected to preserve the unique syntax and tone of black speech, without cleaning things up to make her subjects all sound like upper-class college graduates, though some of them are.
Some passages are riveting in their eloquence --- the automobile journey of Robert P. Foster from his native Louisiana to Los Angeles in the early 1950s, a hellish series of efforts to find unsegregated lodgings before he fell asleep at the wheel; the horrifying descriptions of lynch mobs on the rampage; the life of railroad porter George Starling serving white passengers while himself unable to escape discriminatory practices and threats against his person; the far-reaching Jim Crow laws in the south that prevented blacks from patronizing public libraries and decreed that, even after desegregation was the law of the land, they had to wait for service in stores until all the whites present had been taken care of. (In Birmingham, Alabama, for many years it was against the law for blacks and whites to play checkers together).
Wilkerson devotes major attention to the racial history of Chicago, where immigrant Ida Mae Gladney of Mississippi ended up. This may be simply because the volume of statistical and sociological data on the racial divide there is so enormous, and also because that divide persists to this day in many ways. George Starling made a decent life for himself in Harlem, but watched helplessly as one of his children slid into drugs and criminal activity.
But perhaps the most vivid story of all is that of Robert Foster, a medical school graduate and prominent Los Angeles surgeon. He achieved greater success than either of the other two major figures, but it only aroused in him a need to "prove himself" by buying an ostentatious home, spending lavishly in fine clothes and elaborate parties, and developing a gambling mania. Of Wilkerson's trio, he is the most arresting character --- a man who made it big but felt he always had to go higher up the success ladder. Wilkerson is candid about his character flaws. She seems to pity him rather than simply wax critical.
THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS is a rich and powerful book. It tells a story that for many people still needs to be told.
--- Reviewed by Robert Finn
As a gay man, I often look to these books to be inspired by how black Americans "soldiered on" and showed such unbreakable spirit during these years. No, I personally never experienced even 1/10th of their struggle, but it still empowers me to face prejudice and avoid a lazy victimhood mentality. I am incredibly grateful for books like this, as should anyone who faces prejudice or discrimination by a majority.
Clearly a book of this scope took years to complete, and I'm rooting for this to win this year's National Book Award. I suggest you set aside a whole weekend like I did and savor every page of it.
"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."
Based on more that 1200 interviews with participant in the Great Migration, Wilkerson's book is much more an oral history and a work of literature than it is an academic study. Some earlier studies of the Great Migration have focused on the years of WWI and its immediate aftermath, but Wilkerson studies the 1930s,40s and 50s. She explores in detail the lives of three people who migrated during these decades. The first migrant, Ida Mae Brandon, was a sharecropper in eastern Missippi. At the age of 16 she married George Gladney who worked on a plantation owned by a man known as Mr. Edd. When men in the neighborhood beat and nearly killed a man based on the false accusation that he had stolen Mr. Edd's turkeys, the Gladneys knew they had to leave. They took a train to Milwaukee and soon thereafter moved to Chicago where Ida Mae lived from the 1930s to her death in the 1990s. Of her various subjects, Wilkerson seems fondest of Ida Mae and tells the story of her life in Mississippi followed by her life in Chicago against the changing backdrop of American history and African American life.
Robert Joseph Pershing Foster grew up in the small town of Monroe, Louisiana where his parents taught at the segregated Jim Crow School. Ambitious, agressive, and intelligent, Foster studied at Atlanta University where he married Alice Clement, the daughter of the famous president of the University, Rufus Clement, who had fired W.E.B. DuBois. Foster became a physician and a surgeon and his ambitions were far broader than his opportunities in the Jim Crow South. After a period as a surgeon in the Army, Foster left the South on a long nightmarish drive to California in the 1950s and settled in Los Angeles. He worked himself up to a highly successful medical practice, centering upon other migrants. Foster became Ray Charles's doctor, and Charles wrote and recorded a song about him. Almost as fond of the casino and racetrack as of medicine, Foster lived lavishly and threw extraordinary parties to demonstrate how far he had come from life in the South. While admiring his drive, intellect, and success, Wilkerson is uncomfortable with the way in which Foster abandoned his roots and with his life-long insecurities not far below the surface of his material success.
The third protagonist, George Swanston Starling, lived in central Florida near the town of Eustis. Intelligent and ambitious, Starling completed two years of college. When his father could not afford further education, Starling married a young woman, Inez, on the spur of the moment and probably out of spite. The marriage proved unhappy but it endured. Starling took a number of lowpaying and difficult jobs picking fruit. He was forced to flee for his life when he tried to organize the workers and learned that the bosses were likely plotting his death. He and Inez took a train to Harlem in the late 1940 where the unfortunate marriage endured until Inez' death after 44 years. Starling worked as a porter on the railroads where he witnessed and subtly assisted many other African Americans leaving the South in purusit of a better, freer life.
Wilkerson juxtaposes the stories on these three people, who never met one another, throughout the book as they left the South and faced the America of the North, Midwest, and West. Their stories are told with flair and passion. I felt I knew Brandon, Foster, and Starling, and could share their hopes and sorrows. Much of the writing is stunning, including the long claustrophobic chapters recounting Foster's lonely drive from Louisiana to Texas and the endless instances of discrimination and rebuff he faced along the way.
Wilkerson tells the stories of her protagonists while also giving the story of the era. She describes the lynchings, discrimination, and many indignities of black life in the South which prompted her characters to leave. She also describes the more subtle discrimination in the rest of the United States. While her protagonists were able to vote, earn money, and succeed to an extent that would have been unlikely in the Jim Crow South, their lives were not easy and the transitions were severe. Her chapters describing her protagonists are interspersed with broader chapters and passages describing American life in the South and in the places in the United States in which the migrants resettled.
Wilkerson takes issue with some prior treatments of the Great Migration. She argues that in the main the migrants constituted the more intelligent and ambitious portion of the South's African American population. She maintains that their birthrates were lover and educational levels higher than African Americans who lived outside of the South, that their families tended to be more stable, and that they were less likely to be on welfare. She emphasizes individual initiative and drive, the dehumanization of Jim Crow, rather than economic factors, such as the development of mechanized cotton picking, as the primary reasons for African American migration from the South.
Wilkerson's book of about 650 pages is written with lyricism and love more than with the dispassion of the historian. It captures a people and an era. This is a wonderfully human and insightful book about a part of American history that remains too little known.
In 60 years, most major American cities had a large Black population. Black America is largely defined as an urban people, who spread over America. This change, from the slower pace of the rural South to the rapid pace of Northern and Western cities is one of the great stories of the 20th Century and one that few wish to tell.
This book looks at that migration as both a personal experience and as history. The author emphasizes personal experience. This migration is documented through the experiences of three participants. If you are looking for a conventional history, you will not be happy with this book. If you are looking for a very well written book chronicling Black life from the 1920s to the 1970s, this is an excellent book.
While not a fun read, it is an easy book to read and can be enjoyable. This is a story of people looking for a better life and the adjustments forced on them. Some of the adjustments are painful others are very satisfying to them. The author captures the times and the people, their joys and sorrows.
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