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The Warmth of Other Suns
Cover of The Warmth of Other Suns
The Warmth of Other Suns
The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
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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...
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...
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  • 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.
    NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER

    LYNTON HISTORY PRIZE WINNER
    HEARTLAND AWARD WINNER
    DAYTON LITERARY PEACE PRIZE FINALIST

    NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
    The New York Times • USA Today
  • O: The Oprah Magazine
  • Amazon
  • Publishers Weekly • Salon
  • Newsday • The Daily Beast

    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

    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.
 

Awards-

Excerpts-

  • Chapter One


    In the Land of the Forefathers

    Our mattresses were made
    of corn shucks
    and soft gray Spanish moss
    that hung from the trees. . . .
    From the swamps
    we got soup turtles
    and baby alligators
    and from the woods
    we got raccoon,
    rabbit and possum.

    --Mahalia Jackson, Movin' On Up

    Leaving

    This land is first and foremost
    his handiwork.
    It was he who brought order
    out of primeval wilderness . . .
    Wherever one looks in this land,
    whatever one sees that is the work of man,
    was erected by the toiling
    straining bodies of blacks.

    --David L. Cohn, God Shakes Creation


    They fly from the land that bore them.

    --W. H. Stillwell



    1

    Chickasaw County, Mississippi, Late October 1937

    Ida Mae Brandon Gladney


    The night clouds were closing in on the salt licks east of the oxbow lakes along the folds in the earth beyond the Yalobusha River. The cotton was at last cleared from the field. Ida Mae tried now to get the children ready and to gather the clothes and quilts and somehow keep her mind off the churning within her. She had sold off the turkeys and doled out in secret the old stools, the wash pots, the tin tub, the bed pallets. Her husband was settling with Mr. Edd over the worth of a year's labor, and she did not know what would come of it. None of them had been on a train before--not unless you counted the clattering local from Bacon Switch to Okolona, where, "by the time you sit down, you there," as Ida Mae put it. None of them had been out of Mississippi. Or Chickasaw County, for that matter.

    There was no explaining to little James and Velma the stuffed bags and chaos and all that was at stake or why they had to put on their shoes and not cry and bring undue attention from anyone who might happen to see them leaving. Things had to look normal, like any other time they might ride into town, which was rare enough to begin with.

    Velma was six. She sat with her ankles crossed and three braids in her hair and did what she was told. James was too little to understand. He was three. He was upset at the commotion. Hold still now, James. Lemme put your shoes on, Ida Mae told him. James wriggled and kicked. He did not like shoes. He ran free in the field. What were these things? He did not like them on his feet. So Ida Mae let him go barefoot.

    Miss Theenie stood watching. One by one, her children had left her and gone up north. Sam and Cleve to Ohio. Josie to Syracuse. Irene to Milwaukee. Now the man Miss Theenie had tried to keep Ida Mae from marrying in the first place was taking her away, too. Miss Theenie had no choice but to accept it and let Ida Mae and the grandchildren go for good. Miss Theenie drew them close to her, as she always did whenever anyone was leaving. She had them bow their heads. She whispered a prayer that her daughter and her daughter's family be protected on the long journey ahead in the Jim Crow car.

    "May the Lord be the first in the car," she prayed, "and the last out."

    When the time had come, Ida Mae and little James and Velma and all that they could carry were loaded into a brother-in-law's truck, and the three of them went to meet Ida Mae's husband at the train depot in Okolona for the night ride out of the bottomland.


    2

    Wildwood, Florida, April 14, 1945

    George Swanson Starling


    A man named Roscoe Colton gave Lil...

About the Author-

  • Isabel Wilkerson won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for her reporting as Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times. The award made her the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African American to win for individual reporting. She won the George Polk Award for her coverage of the Midwest and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for her research into the Great Migration. She has lectured on narrative writing at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University and has served as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and as the James M. Cox Jr. Professor of Journalism at Emory University. She is currently Professor of Journalism and Director of Narrative Nonfiction at Boston University. During the Great Migration, her parents journeyed from Georgia and southern Virginia to Washington, D.C., where she was born and reared. This is her first book.

Reviews-

  • DOGO Books Stacey Brahm - Much about life in the South didn't change for African Americans after the Civil War. They moved to northern cities for freedom, a new life for their children, and jobs. Did they find what they were looking for?
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 26, 2010
    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.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from July 1, 2010

    In her ambitious debut, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson (Journalism, Narrative Nonfiction/Boston Univ.) examines the Great Migration of African-Americans from World War I to the 1970s.

    The author interviewed more than 1,200 people for this sweeping history, which focuses mainly on the personal stories of three Southern African-Americans who uprooted their lives to move to other parts of America: Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife who moved from rural Mississippi in the midst of the Great Depression, eventually landing in Chicago; George Swanson Starling, who went from picking fruit in north Florida to becoming a train attendant in 1940s New York; and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, an accomplished surgeon who moved from northern Louisiana to Los Angeles in the 1950s. Wilkerson uses their histories to tell the larger story of how institutionalized racism helped spur the Great Migration of millions of Southern African-Americans to northern, midwestern and western states. Gladney and her family decided to leave Mississippi after a relative, suspected of stealing turkeys, was nearly beaten to death by whites. Starling, after leading an attempted sit-down strike of some African-American fruit-pickers, fled Florida under threat of death. Foster moved to California because no Southern hospitals would hire an African-American surgeon; whites in the South wouldn't even call him "Dr. Foster," but "spat out 'Doc' as if they were addressing the cook." Though each of Wilkerson's subjects faced discrimination in the North as well, they felt a greater sense of freedom to pursue their own visions of the American dream. The author deftly intersperses their stories with short vignettes about other individuals and consistently provides the bigger picture without interrupting the flow of the narrative. While other fine books, such as Ira Berlin's The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations (2010), address many of the same themes, Wilkerson's focus on the personal aspect lends her book a markedly different, more accessible tone. Her powerful storytelling style, as well, gives this decades-spanning history a welcome novelistic flavor.

    An impressive take on the Great Migration, and a truly auspicious debut.

    (COPYRIGHT (2010) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Janet Maslin, The New York Times "A landmark piece of nonfiction.... sure to hold many surprises for readers of any race or experience....A mesmerizing book that warrants comparison to The Promised Land, Nicholas Lemann's study of the Great Migration's early phase, and Common Ground, J. Anthony Lukas's great, close-range look at racial strife in Boston....[Wilkerson's] closeness with, and profound affection for, her subjects reflect her deep immersion in their stories and allow the reader to share that connection."
  • John Stauffer, Wall Street Journal "The Warmth of Other Suns is 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."
  • Jill Lepore, The New Yorker "[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....This is narrative nonfiction, lyrical and tragic and fatalist. The story exposes; the story moves; the story ends. What Wilkerson urges, finally, isn't argument at all; it's compassion. Hush, and listen."

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The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
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