The Warmth Of Other Suns Summary

Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth Of Other Suns

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The Warmth Of Other Suns Summary

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In The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson chronicles how black Americans from the South migrated to the North and West in search of a better life. The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award and received many other accolades. A poem by Richard Wright, who himself was part of the migration, inspired the main title of the book.

In this epic work, Wilkerson delves into a migration that is both hopeful and heartbreaking, and which lasted for decades. Almost six million African Americans left the American South in a mass exodus from 1915 to 1970 during The Great Migration and Second Great Migration. They fled to the West, Northeast, and Midwest. The people who left the South in the Great Migration risked everything to seek the freedom promised in the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet the story of this important chapter in American history is rarely told and its significance has been poorly understood.

Isabel Wilkerson spent ten years researching the book. She studied historical texts and gained access to official records and new data. In addition to the general history and statistical analysis of the migration, she includes first person research, which involved  interviewing over 1,500 people. Her extensive research enables Wilkerson to write a definitive work on the migration and how it impacted America.

The book has a dual focus. First, Wilkerson gives an account of the historical background of the migration. In addition, she tells the story of three unique people: Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Pershing Foster. These individual stories help put a human face on the broader migration.

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney was a sharecropper’s wife. She migrated to Chicago from Mississippi in 1937. This free-spirited woman left her home soon after her cousin is almost beaten to death after being falsely accused of stealing a turkey from a white man. Ida leaves the backbreaking work of picking cotton for very low wages. She begins a new life in Chicago and eventually found contentment. She sees things she never imagined possible. When Barack Obama ran for the Illinois Senate, Ida helped vote him into office.

George Swanson Starling was a college graduate and an agricultural worker in the orange groves of Florida. He stood up to the orange grove owners by leading a strike for fairer wages for the workers. He was forced to flee Florida to avoid being the target a lynch mob, or a “necktie party,” after the strike. In 1945, he moved to Harlem, New York City. He worked as a train porter on the eastern seaboard. George fought for civil rights which put his job at risk. He experienced hardships. He eventually found peace through his faith in God.

Robert Joseph Pershing Foster left Louisiana in 1953 to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a doctor. After serving as a surgeon in the United States Army, Robert is not allowed to perform even a simple tonsillectomy in the hospital in his town.  In his struggle to fulfill his professional ambitions, he has to drive through three states before he finds a hotel that will rent him a room. Despite his initial struggles, he becomes a wealthy doctor who lives in a large home and throws fancy parties for the high society in black Los Angeles. He serves as the personal physician to the musician Ray Charles.

Despite the differences in circumstance and location of their experiences, Ida, George, and Robert all fled the American South to seek freedom. In reading their stories, the reader gains insight into the fear and humiliations they all suffered under Jim Crow law. We understand the hardship and suffering they all had to endure. They travel across the country on dangerous and exhausting trips by car and train. In their new lives, these courageous people face new hardships in the North and live among fellow African Americans in ghettos. Unfortunately, racism is not left behind in the South.

The vast number of African Americans who left the South greatly influenced their new cities. They are immigrants in their own country. They brought with them their faith, culture and southern food. They also positively influenced those around them with their hard work, drive, and discipline.

In 1994, Isabel Wilkerson was the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing and the first African American to win for individual reporting. At the time, she was the Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times. Her parents traveled from Georgia and southern Virginia to Washington, D.C. as part of the Great Migration. At Boston University, she is Professor of Journalism and Director of Narrative Nonfiction. The Warmth of Other Suns is her first book.