The Warmth of Other Suns

Disclaimer from HBR:  As a granddaughter of the Great Migration, in many respects this book told my personal history. It was so personal for me I sobbed uncontrollably for about 2 hours after finishing it. I knew vaguely the things my family escaped by leaving the south and the difficulties they encountered in the north but having it on paper cut through me. To date I have never had such a strong response to a book and hands down this book will always be the first I recommend for people wanting to understand some of the past and current issues of Blacks in America.

 

Title: The Warmth of Other Suns

Author: Isabel Wilkerson
Fiction or Non-Fiction: Non-fiction
Time period: 1930s to Present
Book length: Long
Cultural report card (1-5 scale): 5  
What communities does this book explore?  African American
Short summary of the book:  Wilkerson uses a newly developing genre of “narrative non-fiction” to tell the story of three African Americans that leave the Southern US to escape persecution only to be confronted with similar issues in northern and western cities. Throughout the book, she weaves incredible detail of the history surrounding the “Great Migration” of Blacks from the south into the narratives of the main “characters”. Wilkerson also explores how much of what happened during the great Migration, including creation of ghettos to restrict movement of blacks, lack of financial opportunities and racism, continue to shape American feelings and treatment of Black Americans.
What cultural aspects are presented in the book? This book thoroughly explores many aspects of American culture and helps us all think about how the Great Migration of Blacks from the south shapes American identity. For example, Wilkerson covers how new immigrants actively worked to prevent equal rights for Blacks as it threatened their own wages and how Blacks were still underpaid and overcharged in the north.
How did this break or address stereotypes of this group? Through reviewing historic news articles, studies and books, Wilkerson sheds a lot of light on the stereotypes of Blacks that persist to this day but were completely inaccurate. Many of these stereotypes were written in news and books of the time calling blacks lazy, dumb, and blaming them for the problems of the cities they migrated to but this was largely inaccurate.
Does this book cover any historical events that shape this group’s identity? The Great Migration is in many ways considered a hidden or forgotten migration so this book helps cover a period that really influenced all of American identity. It discusses whether many of the people we know and praise like Jesse Owens would have been the same without the major sacrifice their families made to move to the north.
Quote from the book that might entice to read but also summarizes the style:

“The receiving stations of the Great Migration were no more welcoming of the colored migrants than the South was-in fact, the arrival of colored migrants set off remarkable displays of hostility, ranging from organized threats against white property owners who might sell or rent to blacks to firebombing of houses before the new colored owners could even move in”

Criticism of the book: This book is VERY long and can be a little repetitive in some parts.
Best for readers who: I’d recommend this book for all Americans. This migration shaped all of American history regardless of which ethnic group you belong to.

 

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