The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
Over the last few years, and especially over the last few months, people in my circle of friends and acquaintances have been coming to terms with issues of racism, racial justice, and white privilege and supremacy. We’ve read books and periodical articles, listened to sermons, podcasts, and radio programs, and watched videos. Personal stories abound in these resources, from Emmett Till’s to George Floyd’s. Those stories help us understand that racism and related behaviors and issues are not abstractions. They affect real people.
In The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson uses the stories of three individuals to school her readers on racism in the United States. These three are among the six million Blacks who left their lives and homes in the South behind between 1916 and 1970 and moved north and west in a sociological phenomenon that became known as the Great Migration.
I don’t remember learning about the Great Migration when I learned U.S. history in the 1960s and 1970s. It is alluded to briefly, although not called the Great Migration, in John M. Barry’s Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, which I read several years ago. Wilkerson does not refer to the great Mississippi Basin flood of 1927, but it is easy to see how it might have fit into her narrative: During the flood, Blacks in Mississippi were conscripted and ordered at gunpoint to work on reinforcing the levees along the lower Mississippi.
Wilkerson does not spare details when describing the mistreatment, abuse, and violence that Blacks have endured. She is also clear that the mistreatment and violence did not end when the migrants crossed the Mason-Dixon Line. White residents of communities where Blacks wanted to live would not permit that to take place. Landlords, employers, real-estate brokers, home sellers, banks, healthcare systems, school systems, and countless other individuals and institutions erected and maintained barriers to Black progress and well-being.
Those barriers might be less visible now, but they still exist. The Civil Rights movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and subsequent efforts to treat Blacks as equal partners in the American experiment might have been the beginning of the end, but the end is still not in sight in many respects.
I write this as a white male who has enjoyed the benefits of white privilege my entire life. I make no claim of being woke or anti-racist. I still bear prejudices and attitudes that I might not rid myself of in my lifetime. Nonetheless, The Warmth of Other Suns has opened my eyes a little more to the injustices Blacks have endured in America for over four centuries. If you are looking to understand how Black lives have not mattered, or how they do matter and always have mattered, The Warmth of Other Suns is a great resource for gaining that understanding.
Thanks for stopping by. Be well!