23 3 / 2012
This was the read of a lifetime. As explained in my previous post about The Warmth of Other Suns, I loved this book. Hands down one of my favorites ever, and will most likely be my top read of 2012. Unfortunately, I allowed too much time to pass between finishing the book and writing the review so this will not be as indepth as i would have liked (I should have taken notes!)
This expansive book is about the Great Migration of Black Americans from the south to the north, midwest, and west.
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.
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.
Though Isabel Wilkerson included a wealth of information about Black migrants as a whole, she also interviewed and documented the lives of three individuals who participated in this movement:
Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago…; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem…; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career [in California]…
These three intensely personal stories, spanning from their births to their deaths, gave life to a book that may have otherwise been filled with percentages and numbers. It made it easier to picture the emotions that my own relatives may have dealt with when making the decision to move from Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana for better lives in California.
I would encourage everybody, no matter their race or background, to pick up this book. It’s not just a book about Black lives; it is pure American history. It focuses on the injustices that Black American’s suffered, but it also shines a light on their dreams, their aspirations, their hope to live simple lives and provide for their families. It details how America changed, and how politics, laws, and cultural traditions were affected by those changes.
This book inspired countless conversations with my mother about the migration of my grandparents and other family members. I’m pretty sure most people who read it will want to talk to their family about what caused them to move around the country, or stay in the south.
Kudos to Wilkerson. She deserved every single one of the accolades and awards that she recieved for this brilliant book.