Awarded on Goodreads.
If I could give this book SIX stars, I would. I’m not sure I’ve ever used this word to describe any book I’ve read, but it’s TRANSFORMATIVE!
Before reading THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS, I thought I had a reasonable white person’s understanding of the pervasive nature of racism in the United States. But I never fully understood the daily impact racism has on every aspect of life of a black American. And I certainly never before got that, after the Civil War, the lives of freed blacks in the south actually became worse than under slavery.
Part drama, part history, and part sociology text, THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS skillfully portrays a hundred years of migration, when blacks left the untenable and unjust Jim Crow restrictions of the southern states and, much like other immigrants coming to this country, traveled far looking for more and better opportunities. The result is nothing less than the demographic transformation of the United States.
Wilkerson masterfully focuses on the journeys of three people:
• Ida Mae Gladney, a poor sharecropper who left Mississippi in 1937, following her husband on the midwest railroad route taken by millions of others, ultimately landing in Chicago’s South Side.
• George Starling, a workers’ activist and the son of two educators, who was forced to flee Florida in 1945, ending up in Harlem.
• Robert Foster, a talented physician who married into Louisiana’s black elite, but had to travel to California and endure long separations from his family, before establishing the medical practice he craved.
Through these three narratives, representative of so many millions of others, and her rich, supporting research, Wilkerson helps readers actually experience so many nuanced aspects of the migration:
We understand the family, community, and cultural connections travelers sacrificed when they headed north, and the deep hole left inside each one.
We witness both the new opportunities and new restrictions they encountered when arriving at “the promised land.”
We see the hostility greeting them from already-established black Americans, as well as from other ethnic immigrant groups.
We explore the overt and more subtle forms racism takes in the north, impacting employment, rents, home ownership, religion, and social life.
We see the multi-faceted impact of the migration on generations of descendants, navigating the challenges of urban crime and drugs.
We just begin to recognize the myriad ways this migration has left a lasting imprint on contemporary culture, especially in the music we listen to.
And the ways in which this massive demographic shift continues to play out today in the politics of our country’s northern cities and southern states.
Want to understand some of the origins of red states and blue states? I can’t imagine any understanding that’s possible without this book.
This is a long one, though very compelling and exceptionally readable. And it’s a chapter of American history that isn’t taught in schools, but ought to be read by every American who wants to understand who we truly are and how we got here.