The warmth of other suns The epic story of America's great migration

Isabel Wilkerson

Book - 2010

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.

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Subjects
Published
New York : Random House 2010.
Edition
1st ed
Language
English
Physical Description
x, 622 p. ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9780679444329
9780679763888
0679444327
Main Author
Isabel Wilkerson (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* From the early twentieth century through its midpoint, some six million black southerners relocated themselves, their labor, and their lives, to the North, changing the course of civil, social, and economic life in the U.S. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson offers a broad and penetrating look at the Great Migration, a movement without leaders or precedent. Drawing on interviews and archival research, Wilkerson focuses on three individuals with varying reasons for leaving the South—the relentless poverty of sharecropping with few other opportunities, escalating racial violence, and greater social and economic prospects in the North. She traces their particular life stories, the sometimes furtive leave-takings; the uncertainties they faced in Chicago, New York, and L.A.; and the excitement and longing for freer, more prosperous lives. She contrasts their hopes and aspirations with the realities of life in northern cities when the jobs eventually evaporated from the inner cities and new challenges arose. Wilkerson intersperses historical detail of the broader movement and the sparks that set off the civil rights era; challenging racial restrictions in the North and South; and the changing dynamics of race, class, geography, politics, and economics. A sweeping and stunning look at a watershed event in U.S. history.

Review by Choice Reviews

Readers of this book should be warned. This is not traditional history; it is, however, good history. Using the lives of three African Americans whose stories personified the migration of southern rural blacks to northern cities, Wilkerson (journalism, Boston Univ.) takes a known but seldom understood demographic transformation of the US and makes it a compelling narrative. Through the text, the author offers insight into the great migration between 1915 and 1970, US race relations, the dynamics of African American life both southern and northern, the civil rights movement, and the pervasive influence of kinship. The story puts the great migration clearly in the context of immigration, albeit with a significant twist, in that the migrants were Americans to begin with. Based on numerous interviews with not only the individuals whose story the author is telling, but also with those who added depth to those stories, the book is a good demonstration of the use of oral history. To historians accustomed to a crisper chronology, the book will be frustrating, but that should not negate the importance of this contribution. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduate and graduate readers as well as the general public. Copyright 2011 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Wilkerson, the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer (in 1994, for feature reporting at the New York Times), tells the stories of three individuals to track the movement of African Americans from the South during the 20th century. Great expectations and an 11-city tour; pair with Ira Berlin's recent The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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. (Sept.) [Page ]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

An epic history covering the period from the end of World War I through the 1970s chronicles the decades-long migration of African Americans from the South to the North and West through the stories of three individuals and their families.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

In an epic history covering the period from the end of World War I through the 1970s, a Pulitzer Prize winner chronicles the decades-long migration of African Americans from the South to the North and West through the stories of three individuals and their families. 75,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

One of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the YearIn 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. With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.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.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

NATIONAL BEST SELLER • NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER • NAMED ONE OF TIME’S TEN BEST NONFICTION BOOKS OF THE DECADE AND ONE OF BUZZFEED’S BEST BOOKS OF THE DECADE “A brilliant and stirring epic . . . 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, The Wall Street Journal NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times •USA Today • O: The Oprah Magazine • Publishers Weekly • Salon • Newsday •The Daily Beast In this 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. With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.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. NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New Yorker • The Washington Post • The Economist • Boston Globe • San Francisco Chronicle • Chicago Tribune • Entertainment Weekly • Philadelphia Inquirer • The Guardian • The Seattle Times • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • The Christian Science Monitor