“They did what human beings looking for freedom, throughout history, have often done. They left.” –The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson
This blog is going to be sort of a Who’s Who/Read This! combo because I have actually only read one book by Isabel Wilkerson. However, that book has stuck with me and I reference it a lot. She is the author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, a historical study conducted by Ms. Wilkerson about the movement of Blacks as they moved out of the South and into the North, Midwest, and other regions of America.
So as for Ms. Wilkerson herself, she was born in D.C. in 1961 and graduated from Howard University. She’s worked at a number of publications such as Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and The New York Times. On top of that, she’s also incredibly decorated and has won such prestigious awards such as the Pulitzer Prize in journalism, a George S. Polk award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and Journalist of the Year. She’s taught at a handful of colleges over the years, but now she lives in Atlanta.
The reason I feel comfortable incorporating a “Read This!” into this blog is because Ms. Wilkerson wrote The Warmth of Other Suns as a series of interviews and occasionally interjects her own thoughts into the stories. The book tells the Great Migration story of three individuals who took part in it. They are Ida Mae Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster. The fascinating thing about this book is that each person that was interviewed had such similar experiences, and yet also vastly different experiences.
Ida Mae is a sharecropper’s wife living in Mississippi with her family. They have dreams of going elsewhere, but the sharecropper keeps thinking of ways to prevent them from leaving and adding more and more to their debt. One day the sharecropper’s turkeys go missing, and Ida Mae’s relative is wrongly blamed and is beaten within an inch of his life. After that, they decide that they need to get out of the South as quickly as possible and relocate to Chicago.
George is one of the few college educated people in his small Florida town, but unfortunate circumstances and his jerk of a father keep him in the orange groves picking fruit with everyone else. He tries to form unions and strike for fairer wages, but the White bosses grow angry with him and threaten to lynch him, prompting George to move to New York instead.
Robert comes from an educated family in Louisiana, but he quickly realizes that he will never fully be able to live up to his potential as a surgeon there and relocates to California. He manages to climb the social ladder in Los Angeles and eventually becomes the physician to Ray Charles himself.
You can find out more about Isabel Wilkerson’s process in writing The Warmth of Other Suns by visiting her website and I strongly encourage it. She put in an insurmountable effort into this work and these stories need to be told.