Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Warmth of Other Suns

by Isabel Wilkerson

Ms. Wilkerson has taken on a little addressed slice of the American pie in The Warmth of Other Suns. As a whole, the story is at times a sad, tragic, yet interesting piece of history. Wilkerson shows the extent of her research in the book, which mainly follows three people's journeys and adventures as they escape the repressive southern states for a perceived freedom and jobs in the north and west. Each of the people individually presents their personal hardships both in the south and in their "promised lands"and at the same time, they collectively tell the story of the Great Migration of blacks in America between 1915-1970.

Ida Mae Gladney left her Mississippi home in the late 20's for a brief stay in Milwaukee, but ultimately ended up in Chicago's South Shore. She, her husband and her small children snuck away from their life of share cropping in hopes of freedom. George Starling escaped his certain death (lynching) in Florida after disagreements with the citrus picking companies. He landed in New York with his wife, taking a job with the railways. Robert Foster made it big in California as a renowned physician and surgeon when he left Louisiana to get away from the prejudices of the south. They were all trying to escape Jim Crow and poverty and the impending sense of servitude that permeated the south. Unfortunately, the north didn't always live up to their expectations, as Martin Luther King indicated, "Let's not fool ourselves, we are far from the Promised Land, both north and south." There were two other issues that blacks faced in their attempts to assimilate;  many could never "truly put behind them the hurts {they} had endured in the South" and those that were unhappy still needed to "prove that their decision to move north was the superior and right thing to do."

I enjoyed the authors integration of quotes and give her credit for tackling this daunting tale of American Blacks. Although Ms. Wilkerson had a great story to tell, I found the book unnecessarily long, overly repetitive and lacking continuity. Because of the particular format, Wilkerson retells events over and over again, which I felt detracted from the message. If the presentation were more succinct these amazing life stories would really stand out!


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