In a story of hope and longing, three young people set out from the American South during different decades of the 20th Century en route to the North and West in search of the warmth of other suns. They were forced out by the limits of the caste into which they had been born.
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster are among the six million African-Americans who fled the South during what would become known as the Great Migration. This book interweaves their stories and those of others who made the journey with the larger forces and inner motivations that compelled them to flee, and with the challenges they confronted upon arrival in the New World.
The Great Migration, which comes to life in the pages of this book, lasted from 1915 to 1970, involved six million people and was one of the largest internal migrations in U.S. history. It changed the country, North and South. It brought us jazz, Motown, rhythm and blues, hip hop. It brought us John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Jimi Hendrix, Toni Morrison, August Wilson, Romare Bearden, Malcolm X, Jesse Owens, Bill Russell, Denzel Washington, Michelle Obama — all children or grandchildren of the Great Migration. It changed the cultural and political landscape of America, exerting pressure on the South to change and paving the way toward equal rights for the lowest caste people in the country.
Based on interviews with 1,200 people who participated in the Migration and on newly available census analyses and research into archival material, The Warmth of Other Suns tells one of the greatest underreported stories in American history. It is the story of how the northern cities came to be, of the music and culture that might not have existed had the people not left, the consequences North and South and, most importantly, of the courageous souls who dared to leave everything they knew for the hope of something better.
From the author’s website isabelwilkerson.com
Book Review Links
“A massive and masterly account of the Great Migration…. Based on more than a thousand interviews, written in broad imaginative strokes, this book, at 622 pages, is something of an anomaly in today’s shrinking world of nonfiction publishing: 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 – New York Times Book Review
“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
“The Warmth of Other Suns is told in a voice that echoes the magic cadences of Toni Morrison or the folk wisdom of Zora Neale Hurston’s collected oral histories. … For a certain generation of African Americans, this book will stir a sense of relief–that these stories and rituals that so many migrants attempted to hand-carry in the hopes that they might take root–have now been set down between two covers and in such dignified fashion.” – Lynell George – Los Angeles Times
“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.…. Hush, and listen.” – Jill Lepore – The New Yorker
“The Warmth of Other Suns … is a monument to deep research and even deeper reflection and will sit comfortably for decades on bookshelves beside Oscar Handlin’s The Uprooted, which won a Pulitzer Prize nearly six decades ago . … This is a story sensitively and deftly told, not so much a tale of triumph as one of travail, unless of course you consider the triumph of the human will that this movement captured and then fostered.” – David M. Shribman – Boston Globe
“Mesmerizing… What makes The Warmth of Other Suns compelling is the remarkable intimacy of the stories she tells; her ability to recreate, in wonderfully lyrical prose, the private struggles of particular men and women caught in a system designed to denigrate them.” Kevin Boyle – Chicago Tribune
“An exceptional book…. Wilkerson’s extensive demographic and social-history research, thousands of interviews and select oral histories create a fresh, rich book…. The future novelist, reporter, historian, activist, informed citizen — all will come under the spell of the personal narrative and see the need to dig deep and find history.” – Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett – Seattle Times
“Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, uses the journeys of three black Americans to etch an indelible and compulsively readable portrait of race, class, and politics in 20th-century America. History is rarely distilled so finely.” – Tina Jordan – Entertainment Weekly