Wednesday, November 23, 2016
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson Review
I simply don't have the appropriate words to relate the immense impact that The Warmth of Other Suns has had on me. I consider this massive book absolutely required reading for everyone that is interested in the history and experiences of African Americans. It should be required reading for every high school student. I could not have read this book at a better time in my life. With the imminent fall out of our recent elections here in America, it is vital that we remember the horrors of the many injustices against African Americans. We have to know of the abuses and the aggression against a group of people whose only crime was being born black in America. We have to know about the overwhelming disenfranchisement of the people who were thought to be less than human. We have to see the moral and physical subjugation heaped upon an entire race of people that inevitably created systematic damage that is still being felt today.
Wilkerson delivers not only facts and statistics that are staggering and disheartening, but she delivers them with heart while revealing the humanity of the people who were quite literally forced from their homes and away from their families. Oftentimes fleeing in the middle of the night, without a word that they were leaving for fear of being forcibly tethered to a land and culture that had no respect for them as human beings and didn't value their lives further than the manual labor that they could provide. How devastating must it have been for free men and women to continue to have to 'steal themselves away' as if they were doing wrong in wanting true freedom? To have to literally drop what they were doing and flee from the promise of a lynching because they demanded fair pay? These examples are all the more unbelievable for being absolutely true and are made gut-wrenchingly relatable in this book.
The Warmth of Other Suns reads like family sagas and not at all like dry and disconnected historical facts. There are many instances in this book were I had to pause to fight back tears. The correlation to the lack of generational well being (forget generational wealth) to the injustices an abuses suffered by African Americans living in the south post Reconstruction, through Jim Crow, to the Civil Rights era, straight through modern times and spreading throughout our country is so staggering that it is painful to experience even through the pages of a book. How can a people expect to move each generation forward when the rules are constantly being rewritten in order to keep one subjugated? The lines are constantly being moved literally and figuratively. From the lines of social acceptance to the literal lines of voting districts to create the greatest and most harmful disenfranchisement of African Americans. So many obstacles are being placed to hamper progress and prosperity.
I could so easily write pages on the impact that this book has had on me, but I'm reining myself in now! I'll wrap up by saying that The Warmth of Other Suns is a brilliantly engaging, heart wrenching, and thought provoking book. This should be required reading for every high school student in America. I'm buying copies of this book for both of my adult children immediately. Don't be afraid of the size of this book, it lends itself beautifully to being picked up and put down. I read this over a few weeks by just investing an hour or two at a time, along with longer stretches while still reading other books as well. This is not only going on my favorite reads list for the year, but of all time. I will be thinking of this book for months down the line. As an African American woman myself, The Warmth of Other Suns makes me once again, pause and be grateful for all of the people who came before me whose triumphs came through their suffering. I am eternally grateful for those people who fought, struggled, suffered, cried, and died for the privileges that I have now.
In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.
From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.
Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.