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‘The Warmth of Other Suns’ book review


History remains important to understand the present and what will dictate the future. Author Isabel Wilkerson spent 10 years working to present an accurate, yet engaging account of the Great Migration, the most important sojourn of a people seeking opportunity, economic growth, and safety in a country where they were born citizens, but treated as outsiders. Wilkerson tells the story of the migration through the lives of three protagonists detailing the nuances of their daily struggles and triumphs, while weaving in the intricacies of historic goal posts for African Americans during the time frame spanning 1915 – 1970. The specific details of racism, segregation and inequality are gut-wrenching but do not overshadow the sheer will and determination shown by a people who want more for their lives despite being assigned 3/5ths of a human status.

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney from Mississippi, George Swanson Starling from Florida, and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster from Louisiana are mashups of representatives from millions of black families who left their lives in the South behind for better opportunities not just for themselves, but for their progeny. According to Wilkerson, “over the course of six decades, some six million black Southerners left the land of their forefathers and fanned out across the country for an uncertain existence in nearly every other corner of America. The Great Migration would become a turning point in history. It would transform urban America and recast the social and political order of every city it touched.”

This book is not just for scholars of African American history, but should be required reading for every single American so that we know the history of our country, its truth in its barest form, which brings understanding of the real reasons for today’s societal ills and gains for different ethnic groups. The reader receives an education in 622 pages about a topic that has eluded a lengthy discussion in American history books and classes. Being informed about this history should not anger those who are descended from those great migrators (although the inhumane treatment might spark a feeling or two), but reinforce the theory behind the great words of sociologist and former U.S. Department of Labor official Daniel Patrick Moynihan as penned in The Negro Family: “That the Negro American has survived at all is extraordinary — a lesser people might simply have died out, as indeed others have.” The Warmth of Other Suns is currently the 2013-2014 One Book, One Chicago selection in Chicago, a city profoundly shaped by migration.