The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Lincoln may have freed the slaves in 1863,but that only changed the nature of African Americans’ enslavement in the south. They got paid for their work, but their paychecks were much smaller than the paychecks of white people doing the same type of work–sometimes, as in the case of sharecroppers, they would be lucky to do more than break even, and sometimes they ended up owing the planters whose land they worked. Black people could not vote, they had to step off the sidewalk if a white person was coming, they had to look down when talking to white people, and black men had to be especially careful not to look at white women. Lynchings were commonplace, and no court in the south would convict a white man for killing a black man.
This was the life for freed black people living in the south for more than 100 years, until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s began gathering steam and resulted in key court cases and legislation that eventually killed the Jim Crow laws.
Many African Americans left the south, heading north and west, in search of better lives. Beginning as a trickle about 1915, it soon became a flood and finally petered out about 1975, when southern society was changing enough that blacks didn’t feel that it was urgent for them to leave to seek better lives.
The Warmth of Other Suns is the story of The Great Migration, focusing on three immigrants who took three different routes–George Swanson Starling to New York, Ida Mae Gladney to Chicago, and Robert Pershing Foster to Los Angeles. George Starling left when he got word that he might be lynched, Ida Mae Gladney and her husband George were sharecroppers who wanted a better life, and Robert P. Foster was a surgeon who left so he could practice his profession without restrictions dictated by the color barrier.
But the north was not the land of milk and honey many blacks expected it would be. There was still racial tension and discrimination, but of a different variety, and Wilkerson does a good job of covering the struggles the immigrants had while starting their new lives.
Wilkerson, whose parents migrated from the south and who was the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism (in 1994), spent about 15 years researching this book, conducted more than 1,200 interviews, and retraced the routes taken by Starling, Gladney, and Foster.
The Warmth of Other Suns is a history buff’s dream. It is a readable and informative book about a period that changed the face of this country. I highly recommend it.
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