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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration Paperback – October 4, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by "the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town." Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Bookmarks Magazine
In The Warmth of Other Suns Wilkerson has composed a masterpiece of narrative journalism on a subject vital to our national identity, as compelling as it is heartbreaking and hopeful. Critics, however, were less certain about whether Wilkerson has written a definitive history of the Great Migration. Several reviewers saw the book as an important corrective to previous scholarship on the Migration that too often grouped African Americans into a voiceless mass, that focused exclusively on the negative consequences of their move to Northern urban centers, and that often emphasized economic and sociological explanations at the expense of the personal. Other critics felt that Wilkerson could have taken advantage of more of this scholarship, even if it was sometimes flawed, and could have taken into account larger structural influences. But The Warmth of Other Suns is an impressive achievement--a fresh, rich look at an important chapter in American history. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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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
I should quit while I'm ahead.
Lois W. Stern