The Warmth of Other Suns-
The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson - 2010 - 622 pages
“They did what human beings looking for freedom, throughout history, have often done. They left.”
— Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns
“Toni Morrison calls the book "profound, necessary, and a delight to read". Tom Brokaw praises it as "an epic for all Americans who want to understand the making of our modern nation" - Wikipedia
Between 1915 and 1970 millions of African Americans left the states of the south in America, where their ancestors were slaves, to relocate to big Northern Cities like Chicago (over 2 million), Detroit,NYC and Washington DC. Millions more moved to California, especially Los Angles and Oakland.
People moved to escape the pervasive racism of Crow laws meant to keep African Americans in their place at the bottom of the system. There was no leader, often married men moved alone and after getting settled sent for their families. People moved to where relatives were or to places in which others in their former community were settled. Old timers helped new arrivals.
Wilkerson worked on the book for 15 years, interviewing over 1000 migrants. She ended up giving a very detailed account of the lives of three migrants. She shows us why they moved, and what happened after they did.
One was from CHICKASAW COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, LATE OCT
IDA MAE BRANDON GLADNEY who left in October 1937. She moved to Chicago to join her husband. Married very young, she had no choice but to take the train to Chicago. Wilkerson follows her life their through fifty tumultuous years. She ends up in apartment looking down on a street full of drug dealers.
ROBERT JOSEPH PERSHING FOSTER had a medical degree from a prestigious all black Georgia medical school. He served as doctor during WW Two but when he came home he was not allowed to have any white patients. He married the daughter of the college president and could have joined his brother’s medical practice and done very well. Instead he moved alone to Los Angeles where a friend with an established practice got him started . He was a brilliant doctor who loved his patients , all African American migrants, He moved because he did not want to raise his daughters in The South. As soon as he could he moved his family out. In time he would have a mansion and his wife was a leader of African American Society. His patients loved him back. He would have parties serving food from back home. He developed a passion for gambling at The track and Las Vegas.
“George Swanson Starling came from the featureless way station of citrus groves and one-star motels between the Georgia border and Orlando, Florida, a place of cocksure southern sheriffs, overworked pickers, root doctors, pool hustlers, bootleggers, jackleg preachers, barely a soul you could trust, and a color line as hard as Mississippi’s. It comes back to him, one image after another, how Jim Crow had a way of turning everyone against one another, not just white against black or landed against lowly, but poor against poorer and black against black for an extra scrap of privilege. George Starling left all he knew because he would have died if he had stayed. His face is long and creaseless. He was handsome in his day, a basketball player in high school, good with numbers, a ladies’ man. He holds out a crate of Florida oranges like the ones he used to pick and offers you one, says, even after all that picking and all that it cost him, they’re better than the ones from California. A smile lifts his face at the absurdities of the world he left, and which, in some ridiculous way, he still loves. Then his eyes well up over all that they have seen.” - i just want to share The marvelous prose Style of Wilkerson.
His story begins in Eustis, Florida in 1931. Working picking oranges he starts a labor dispute demanding higher wages. The account of work in The groves was brilliant.He crosses a vicious racist sheriff know for killing African Americans who got out of line and he had two choices, migrant or be lynched..He has cousins in New York City and catches a train. He gets a job as a porter on trains, he was assigned at first to The all black cars until the rules changed . He works on the train for over forty years. From his story we see what the ride north was like for migrants.
Wilkerson explains the social forces at work in America. During WW Two Detroit factories needed new workers. They sent Recruiters down south. They were taking their lives in their hands.
This is narrative non-fiction at the highest level
Her website has a detailed bio