The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

by Isabel Wilkerson

Paperback, 2011




Vintage (2011), Edition: Reprint, 640 pages


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.

Media reviews

I give this book two enthusiastic thumbs up: you’ll not only learn a lot about this underappreciated part of recent America history (I see its remnants about me every day in Chicago, since I live on the South Side, perhaps the most famous destination of the Migration), but also become deeply
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involved in the lives of Ida Mae, George, and Robert. The ending is poignant and bittersweet, and will make you both proud of the migrants and sad about their fate. The writing is quite good (Wilkerson won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism—the first black woman to do so—for her work at The New York Times), and the scholarship, though thorough, is worn lightly. (The book was 15 years in the making and Wilkerson interviewed over 1200 people.) If there’s one flaw—and it’s a small one—the writing is occasionally awkward and more than occasionally repetitious, with the same facts repeated in different places. But that’s a trifle that should by no means put you off.
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9 more
Wilkerson intersperses historical detail of the broader movement and the sparks that set off the civil rights era; challenging racial restrictions in the North and South; and the changing dynamics of race, class, geography, politics, and economics. A sweeping and stunning look at a watershed event
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in U.S. history.
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Entertainment Weekly
Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, uses the journeys of three of them-a Mississippi sharecropper, a Louisiana doctor, and a Florida laborer--to etch an indelible and compulsively readable portrait of race, class, and politics in 20th-century America. History is rarely distilled so
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San Francisco Examiner
Not since Alex Haley's Roots has there been a history of equal literary quality where the writing surmounts the rhythmic soul of fiction, where the writer's voice sings a song of redemptive glory as true as Faulkner's southern cantatas.
The Wall Street Journal
The Warmth of Other Suns is a brilliant and stirring epic, the first book to cover the full half century of the Great Migration....Wilkerson combines impressive research...with great narrative and literary power. Ms. Wilkerson does for the Great Migration what John Steinbeck did for the Okies in
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his fiction masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath; she humanizes history, giving it emotional and psychological depth.
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The New York Times
The New Yorker
This is narrative nonfiction, lyrical and tragic and fatalist. The story exposes; the story moves; the story ends. What Wilkerson urges, finally, isn't argument at all; it's compassion. Hush, and listen.
The Washington Post
[An] extraordinary and evocative work.
Front cover
Profound, necessary, and an absolute delight to read.
Publishers Weekly
Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly
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incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member lilithcat
When I was a kid, I rode the Illinois Central trains from my home in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood to the University of Chicago neighborhood, and to downtown Chicago. I didn't know then that that same rail line was part of a historical moment, a facilitator of a seismic population shift. That
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movement is Wilkerson's story.

Though she is a Pulitzer Prize-winner for journalism, "The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America's Great Migration" is Wilkerson's first book, and I hope to hell she writes another one. She's taken this monster huge topic and made it intimate. Wilkerson spent years interviewing people who had come up from the South to the North, over the period from just after World War I to after WWII. She alternates the stories of three of these people (Ida Mae Gladney, a sharecropper's wife from Mississippi who came to Chicago; George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker and union organizer from Florida who went to Harlem; and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, a doctor from Louisiana who ended up in Los Angeles) with historical data, data that shows that a lot of what we thought we knew about the people who came north just isn't so. They were generally better educated, harder-working and more stable, what some have called the "immigrant effect", for they were, indeed, immigrants in their own country. Like the folks who sailed steerage from Eastern Europe, Ireland, Italy, the African-Americans who came north had grit and determination, and weren't afraid to face a new life in an unknown bourne. It's interesting to read about the different ways Wilkerson's informants handled the change, who shucked off the South and who kept it with them, how in escaping one form of racism, they found another, how they raised their children and coped with a strange, new world.

This book is scholarly, readable, and gorgeously written. It has one of my favorite sentences of all time, one of those that makes you stop and stare and mark the place in the book: "Many of the people who left the South never exactly sat their children down to tell them these things, tell them what happened and why they left and how they and all this blood kin came to be in this northern city or western suburb or why they speak like melted butter and their children speak like footsteps on pavement, prim and proper or clipped and fast, like the New World itself." (Emphasis mine, because that simile knocked me out.) Go read this book!
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LibraryThing member msf59
From 1915 to the mid-1970s nearly six million blacks migrated from the American South, to points in the North and in the West. This epic and vastly under-reported phenomenon, is painstakingly chronicled, in this Pulitzer prize-winning book, written with love and a brutal frankness, that will keep
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the reader, crying, angry and fascinated, sometimes all at the same time.
The genius of Wilkerson’s approach is that she narrows these millions, into three individuals, putting a face and a personal slant on this story. First, there is Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, who departed Mississippi in 1937 for Milwaukee and ended up on the south-side of Chicago. Next up, is George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, who in 1945, fled Florida, after nearly being lynched and settled down in Harlem NY. And finally, Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, a young physician, leaves Louisiana, in 1953, for sunny LA, where a different type of racism, still persists.
The author follows this trio, through their long lives, touching on every triumph and every painful, heart-rending bump.
The only reason I did not award this book 5 stars, was the last 100-150 pages could have used some editing. It began to drag but this is a must read and I feel it should be taught in every high school in the US.
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LibraryThing member DivineMissW
This is a wonderful book. I have recommended it to all my family members. It is the story of my parents who grew up in Tennessee and migrated north to Detroit. The story of our neighbors who too migrated from Alabama and Louisiana. This is the story my parent never told me. The pain, the real
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reasons for the move and the pain that awaited at the end of the journey. Why the riots happened, why did they come specifically to Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland? What did they leave behind?

The myths, the realities and the lies all bound up to together in this book, paint a clear picture. It is lengthy, detailed, inspiring and heart-breaking. I loved being a part of this journey as I know that I and my siblings am a part of the result.

If you have any interest in the African-American journey in America, READ THIS BOOK!!
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
I came of age during the latter part of the 20th century, a period that is only now becoming “history” that can be explored and analyzed. The Warmth of Other Suns is an in-depth account of the Great Migration (1916-1970), when a large population of black Americans resettled from the south to
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the north. Isabel Wilkerson’s research aimed to discover how and why the migration occurred. This book brings it to life through the stories of those who experienced it personally: Ida Mae, who left Mississippi for Chicago in the 1930s; George, who left Florida for New York in the 1940s; and Robert, who left Louisiana for California in the 1950s. Wilkerson met each of them in the mid-1990s, and through hours of interviews came to understand the conditions of their lives in the south, their journeys north, and the course of their lives from that point forward.

These are deeply personal accounts of people who were generally better off after their migration, but whose lives were still filled with prejudice, discrimination, disappointment, and loss. Along the way, Wilkerson provides a view of American society’s evolution, and debunks certain conventional wisdom and stereotypes. There are occasional intersections between her subjects and well-known events in the history of civil rights, lifting those events out of the textbook and making them real. Towards the end the book takes a reflective turn, examining her subjects in old age and considering the factors contributing to or detracting from their well-being. Wilkerson’s obvious affection for her subjects made for an emotional conclusion to this insightful work.
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LibraryThing member lisapeet
Finally had my second library hold come through so I could finish the last 50 pages, and I'm glad I held out. This is a really remarkable piece of journalism and writing. Aside from the enormous breadth of the story Wilkerson is telling—about the deep injustices of the Jim Crow South, this
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enormous migration of people north and west, the circumstances they had to adjust to once they got where they were going, and the steady but slow progress of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s, all playing out together—she humanizes these big histories by telling the detailed stories of three individuals who migrated from the South in different decades. The fact that she pulled off such a multilayered account so well, with a pitch-perfect rhythm swinging between micro and macro—and that she communicated the horror of the situations folks were escaping without being melodramatic—impressed the hell out of this writer. It's a balancing act of journalism and it feels seamless. And I learned a lot about a sweeping piece of American history.
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LibraryThing member Narboink
This is a fascinating and novel approach to history. Isabel Wilkerson tells the story of the Great Migration (African Americans fleeing the Jim Crow South) principally through the biographies of three representative participants: Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling and Robert P. Foster, M.D. Eschewing
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a more traditional, wide-angle view of history, Wilkerson instead elevates anecdote to its rightful place and give us an unsentimental, yet compassionate and artfully empathetic account of the Migration from the perspective of those who lived it. The experience of reading "The Warmth of Other Suns" is akin to reading three biographies at once; each one gently extracting a personal investment from the reader, thereby evoking a connection between past and present that is the hallmark of great history.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
"In the end, it could be said that the common denominator for leaving was the desire to be free, like the Declaration of Independence said, free to try out for most any job they pleased, play checkers with whomever they chose, sit where they wished on the streetcar, watch their children walk across
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a stage for the degree most of them didn’t have the chance to get. They left to pursue some version of happiness, whether they achieved it or not.”

You could call this book an epic or a masterpiece or maybe even a magnus opus. For me it was an astounding achievement following years of incredible research combined with a brilliant narrative voice and an intimate portrait of three individuals. Wilkerson’s writing flows beautifully, poetically as she tells the three stories of how these individuals made the decision to leave everything behind and journey from the South to try to establish a new home in the North. They came from Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana and settled in Harlem, Chicago and Los Angeles. . These three people stand readily for the six million or so who made the journey. That’s a hard task to pull off but the author does it with grace and aplomb.

In between the stories of these three people Wilkerson related the general conditions that led to the Great Migration that took place from 1915-1970 and eventually spelled out that it didn’t always work out as well as they had hoped or imagined. Unfortunately, racism exists all over our country and although the conditions in the South were especially brutal, the rest of the country has its share of racists as well. This book is particularly important today as the man in the White House has made very clear.

I can’t give this book a higher recommendation. Narrative non-fiction at its very best. I will never forget these three individuals.
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LibraryThing member LovingLit
This as a very interesting book for someone like me. Someone whose knowledge of recent American history is limited to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's (courtesy of a High School History module), and whatever I can reliably take from TV and films. Which would be not much. It ties the general
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phenomenon of the 20th C migration of blacks from the South to North /West US together with the specific life stories of three such migrants.

I had no idea how hard it was for people to leave the South: that it was an escape, not just a move. In towns where the local law ran it how they wanted, people literally snuck out in the middle of the night lest they be "caught" attempting to board a train. I had a vague idea that the North and South were different, but this book really showed me how. Racism was all over the country, but in the South it was backed up by the very real threat of a gruesome death. That this occurred in such recent times still makes my chest feel tight in sadness and disbelief.

The community and social support people had in the South may have been partly an act of necessity in the face of such terrible hardship and fear, but it was sorely missed by those families who fled. They arrived to very different ways in Northern cities, and had to adjust. But- they had their freedom. As time marched on, the Northern migrants saw changes in their home states, but with new lives most stayed where they were. And these patterns of movement changed American cities for ever.

There was a lot of information in this book. And a lot of repetition. I feel there could have been a good 100-120 pages removed and it wouldn't have altered the story. The short sections that detailed the personal stories were hopped between fairly quickly, but were then backed up by some historical and social facts. It is a great method of telling a non fiction narrative. But too bitsy for me, and a case of there being a little too much information. A very worthwhile read.
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LibraryThing member detailmuse
This is a close-in biography of three African Americans who migrate from Jim-Crow Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City. It’s an interesting and extremely well-researched trio of personal oral histories but, considering its subtitle, “The Epic Story of
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America’s Great Migration,” it was less informative about the big picture than I’d expected. Still, I did learn -- of the level of racism in early-1900s Florida; of the level of torture involved in some lynchings; that the top migration points in the north became the most severely (and enduringly) segregated U.S. cities. And it was immersive; I listened to its 19 CDs over weeks and weeks of morning walks and felt adrift when I finished.
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LibraryThing member Florinda
I am the grandchild and great-grandchild of white immigrants to America who came from southern and eastern Europe. This is not my story. But it is a story of moving from one homeland to another seeking a better life for oneself and one's children, and of how the "old country" is never truly left
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behind - and in that respect, it has elements in common with an immigrant story. However, the people Isabel Wilkerson writes about in The Warmth of Other Suns probably wouldn't call themselves immigrants; they moved from one part of their own country to another in hopes of more fully experiencing the rights and privileges of American citizenship.

When we talk about the mid-20th-century civil-rights movement, we're usually thinking of the struggles to end legal segregation in the American South. But Wilkerson's book demonstrates the ways that black people who left the South and its Jim Crow system for city life in the North and West changed that system from the outside - not by political means, but by the very fact of making lives away from it. It also illustrates that racist systems are more than capable of developing on their own, via cultural forces rather than force of law.

The subtitle of this book, "The Epic Story of America's Great Migration," is entirely accurate, but Wilkerson scales it to an approachable level by conveying it through the experiences of three individual migrants. Ida Mae Gladney, with her husband and children, made a stealthy departure from the Mississippi cotton fields during the heart of the Great Depression, first to Milwaukee and then to Chicago, where many Mississippi migrants had landed already. Uneducated sharecroppers willing to work hard, the Gladneys both eventually found long-term blue-collar jobs and established their family on Chicago's South Side. George Starling came from the citrus groves of central Florida, and was thwarted in his efforts to complete a college education by his own father and a culture that didn't see its value. But he learned enough to try to organize and get better pay for his fellow grove workers, and knew enough to slip out of state when his efforts became dangerous. George made it to New York in 1945, finding a home in Harlem and work on the railroad, attending to passengers on the north-south routes between New York and Florida and effectively living between both his worlds. Robert Pershing Foster grew up as the youngest son of two teachers in Monroe, Louisiana and always envisioned something more - college, medical school, a well-established family and career of his own, and life without the restrictions of Jim Crow. In 1953, he set out to find it in the Promised Land - Los Angeles - but never quite left behind everything he thought he did.

The stories of these three individuals are more than effective vehicles for illustrating the Great Migration via anecdote - they are riveting reading in their own right. I found the chapters leading up to and including each of their departures from the South particularly engrossing and suspenseful. However, the real achievement of the book is in making the context of these stories - the socio-economic, cultural, and legal climate surrounding them - equally compelling. The Warmth of Other Suns is a well-researched work that blends oral and academic history in a thoroughly accessible manner.

As I said earlier, The Warmth of Other Suns does not tell my story - but it tells a story I really didn't know, and one that I think I needed to know. It's a story that I suspect most Americans don't know nearly enough about - and we need to know it. The story is an essential piece of contemporary history, and one that we need to understand better. As told in this book, it's eye-opening, enlightening, frightening, inspiring, and provocative in the best way. Please don't be intimidated by that 600-plus page count - it moves quickly, and it's hard not to get swept up in it. This is a must-read.
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LibraryThing member kmmt48
Excellent. The author presents a thorough, factual and sometimes passionate view of the African-American experience in our country from the Southern states to the Northern manuafacturing cities during the first 60 years of the 20th Century. Between sections on historical facts and statistics of the
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time, the author presents us with 3 biographies of people who lived the experience. This book was very well researched and put the human touch to a time of history that is overlooked in our education system. Well done!
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LibraryThing member japaul22
Wilkerson won the Pulitzer for this narrative non-fiction book about the Great Migration, the mass exodus of blacks from the south to the north and west from the early 1900s until 1970. Wilkerson writes this book masterfully. She interviewed 1200 migrants and ended up framing the book around 3 of
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these people’s lives. She intersperses their life stories with facts about the times. I won’t get into the details of the book or I won’t know where to stop, but it is very readable and the topic is important for any American to be able to understand our country.

As an American born in 1978, I missed all of this, but have seen a lot of the ramifications that she discusses. Having grown up in the far suburbs of Chicago, and considering that the city of Chicago was one of the meccas for blacks leaving the south, a lot of the things she discusses really hit home. I’ve also lived in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and currently live in Washington, D.C., all cities that were shaped by the Great Migration. This book has really opened up my eyes and I can see it influencing a lot of my thoughts in terms of other literature I read and, of course, the politics of the day.

I really feel at a loss as to how to describe this book, so all I can say is - just read it!
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LibraryThing member ArlieS
This is a non-fiction book about the Great Migration - the movement of almost six million American black people from south to north and west, seeking opportunity and an escape from the even worse - and more overt - racism of the south. I was surprised to discover that the author is a journalist;
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this reads more like a work of anthropology, and the author seems to be at least an order of magnitude better at citing sources than any other journalist I can recall reading.

It is based on a huge number of interviews with migrants and those who knew them. I.e. it's based on a huge work of oral history, performed by the author researching for the book.

The author selected three of these migrants in particular, differing by class, location, personality, and gender, and interviewed them extensively, becoming part of their lives, driving them places, and getting to know others in their social and family circles. She tells the story of the migration primarily as their stories, but with additional information about the broader picture, both from statistics/research, and from newspaper accounts of the relevant time periods.

This worked incredibly well for me. I normally love abstraction, and statistics, and don't want my non-fiction personalized. But not this time.

The treatment of black people in the US is an ugly topic, with ever more revelations of despicable behaviour under every rock. I don't enjoy learning about it, but it's something I feel that every thinking person in the US needs to be aware of. But material stuffed full of abstractions just engages my critical thinking/defensiveness in this area. Whereas stories I believe to be accurate communicate with both my head and my heart.

The author's intermittent mention of the statistics also helps. That and her discussion of her research methodology let me trust that she's not ax-grinding to the point of falsification, and selecting (or even inventing) stories and vignettes primarily to prove a political point.

Yes, she has some specific points she wants to communicate:
- the best way to understand the experience of the participants is to think of it as similar to that of immigrants from outside the US
- the new arrivals didn't lower the northern black average in any meaningful way. Those who moved were better educated on average than those they left behind, though less than the blacks already in the north. They worked harder, on average, and made more money, in spite of being paid less than those already there, never mind than white folks. They were more likely to be and stay married too. (I recognize the popular mythology she's trying to debunk here.)

Problems were caused for everyone by the sheer number of immigrants, and the small geographical areas in which their white neighbours were willing to let them live.They weren't caused by the nature and habits of the migrants. (I've seen this story before, except last time it was about poor white people in Victorian London, with the space where they were able to live constantly being reduced by "slum clearance". Conditions in the remaining slums/affordable areas got more and more frightful, as the population per acre increased.)

She's also clear that while the migration improved conditions for most of those who moved, and eventually helped to bring an end to overt discrimination in the south (Jim Crow), there was plenty of discrimination in the north as well, and much of it was implicit rather than explicit, leading to a constant dangerous guessing game. Better jobs - and better pay - and often union membership - went to white people. Usually. And higher rent for similar conditions went to black people, or rather to anyone in the only areas where blacks were welcome.

She also doesn't hide the ways in which black people harmed other black people, and some of the motives, from attempts at self protection to simple power struggles. They come into the book when they are relevant to the stories, reinforcing my sense that this is a fair and honest account.

Overall, an excellent book. I've learned rather more of the ugly details of black mistreatment in the US, and a lot more about how black people coped. And what I already knew is much better contextualized as to place and time.
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LibraryThing member spounds
There is an interesting confluence of events going on in 2011. It is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War; it is the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides and the Civil Rights movement; and I have just finished reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.

The book tells the story of the
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great migration of blacks from the south to the north and west between 1918 and the 1970s. It follows the particular stories of three people, two men and one woman, who move from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida and end up in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

I found the book fascinating because I knew so little about this chapter of American history. I had heard, as most of us have, about the time of Jim Crow laws in the South, but the personal nature of the stories that Wilkerson tells re-emphasized just how stifling and dangerous those times were. I never realized what an act of courage it took to leave the South, given the death threats that followed these people on their journeys. I never thought about what it must be like to take a train from the north to the south or the south to the north and passengers having to change cars at the border between the two to segregate or integrate depending on which way they were going.

Wilkerson chose subjects who left the South at three different decades during the migration and went to three different cities. Their stories complemented each other nicely—allowing Wilkerson to show commonalities in their narratives while at the same time allowing her to share the differences which made the stories more personal and memorable.

I’ve been reading a day-by-day blog of Civil War history. As I write this, Fort Sumter has been taken, but Bull Run has yet to happen. As I read each entry and think about the long war yet to come, I wonder what the slaves must have been thinking as the start of the conflict ensued. I imagine that many of them must have hoped that this war would be the beginning of the end. After reading this book, my only thought is what a long, long journey they have in front of them.

Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member -Cee-
Here is an account of the migration of black citizens from the South, living under Jim Crow laws following the Civil War, to the North and West looking for opportunities and freedom to live the lifestyles they desire. This Migration took place over the course of the twentieth century following
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clearly marked routes.
Why and how did the migration take place? Many participating in it were entirely unaware of what was happening country-wide as they made critical individual decisions to escape and rebuild. What was the painful process - what the result?

Wilkerson clearly states her methodology(p 540):
“The book is essentially three projects in one. The first was a collection of oral histories from around the country. The second was the distillation of those oral histories into a narrative of three protagonists… The third was an examination of newspaper accounts and scholarly and literary works… to put the subjects’ actions into historical context.”

There were no shocking revelations for me in this book, but there was a long view of the historical events that slowly have been changing the way we live. There was no glamorization. Instead you will find some thoughtful insights. It rang true.

Is the book too long? Well, it is an epic. There are many details that could have been edited out. This could have been shorter and a quicker read. It was dense. And that’s the way I like it. I thought it was balanced and realistic. Not a lot of action, but a chance to put many pieces into perspective. Perhaps a well edited version would make a great school text to provide a meaningful overview of an important part of our US history.
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LibraryThing member CamWhatAm
This book caught my eye as it was being returned to the library where I work. I grew up in the segregated South and went to all-white schools. To this day (I moved to New England after working 2 years in Houston after college), I do not know where the black high school was, or any of the black
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schools for that matter with the exception of an elementary school - that was newer and closer to my house than that I had attended - where I went as a Girl Scout one Saturday to help with a program aide workshop. There are two particular quotes from this book that are most meaningful to me: Describing George Starling on pg. 492 "He has made his mistakes, plenty of them, but he alone has made them and has lived with the consequences of exercising his own free will, which could be said to be the very definition of freedom." The two paragraphs on page 543 from the 1922 report by the Chicago Commission on Race Relations: "It is important for our white citizens always to remember that the Negroes alone of all our immigrants came to America against their will by the special compelling invitation of the whites; that the institution of slavery was introduced, expanded and maintained by the United States by the white people and for their own benefit; and they likewise created the conditions that followed emancipation. Our Negro problem, therefore, is not of the Negro's making. No group in our population is less responsible for its existence. But every group is responsible for its continuance....Both races need to understand that their rights and duties are mutual and equal and their interests in the common good are identical....There is no help or healing in appraising past responsibilities or in present apportioning of praise or blame. The past is of value only as it aids in understanding the present; and an understanding of the facts of the problem--a magnanimous understanding by both races--is the first step toward its solution." I too well remember the WHITES ONLY signs on drinking fountains and restrooms. When I was a small child, my family traveled from Houston to Destin, Florida bringing with us our colored help. They weren't allowed to come into restaurants with us as we traveled, but were sent around to the back to be fed from the least I hope they were fed there. When I was in high school, a black woman started coming to our church and wanted to join. There was a meeting after the service where her request - without her presence, as best I recall - was discussed. I opined that I didn't think God cared what color skin a person had, but was more concerned with what was in their heart. I still have the letter from the pastor thanking me for my contribution to the discussion, but I don't believe the woman was allowed to join. The race situation in this country is still as rancorous in many ways as it was while I was growing up. When are we going to learn to appreciate the contributions each person can make to the community regardless or race, creed, sex or sexual orientation?
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Isabel Wilkerson sure did her research. She's combined 3 almost novellas as she describes the established routes African Americans used to escape the Jim Crow South into the North and West. There's the lovely, undereducated Ida Mae Brandon Gladney who takes the train from poverty in Mississippi and
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goes with her family to Chicago. There's not educated quite enough but union organizer at heart George Swanson Starling who escapes almost certain death in Florida to ride the train to New York; and there's the way too proud for his own good, professional man Dr. Robert Joseph Pershing Foster who drove from Louisiana to a very big life in Los Angeles. Your heart goes out to the people she profiles as she discusses their lives in relation to the history of the time. I even ended up with feelings for Dr. Foster who could be a very difficult and controlling person.

Isabel Wilkerson discusses the fact that these people were escaping Jim Crow country, but that they began and ended as Americans. They were non-immigrant immigrants who acted like the other immigrants we've read about. They continued to treasure the foods of their home towns, maintained societies celebrating their home towns, sent money home, sometimes maintained the accents of their youth for life, encouraged those left behind to join the migration, valued family and education and worked very hard. Evidently at some point people tried to say blacks left the South for elsewhere chasing better welfare payments, but that they were in reality less likely to be on welfare than people born in their new communities.

Throughout her book, Wilkerson quotes from the published work of famous migrants. This is one of my favorites to explain why so many people would leave the land of their birth:
The lazy, laughing South
With blood on its mouth...
Passionate, cruel,
That is the South.
And I, who am
black, would love her
But she spits in my face...
So now I seek the
The cold-faced
For she, they say,
is a kinder mistress.
Langston Hughes, "The South"

The migration changed both the ones who left and the South itself, leading, eventually to the demise of Jim Crow. But it was a long time in coming.
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LibraryThing member mrlzbth
This is an amazing non-fiction account of the Great Migration--Wilkerson tells the stories of three people who participated in the Migration while filling in just enough background detail to provide the context you need to fully appreciate their courage and perseverance. There's Ida Mae, a
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sharecropper's wife who flees to Chicago after her relative is a target of racial violence, George Starling, who becomes a railway porter after having to leave Florida after encouraging his fellow fruit pickers to demand better wages, and Robert Pershing Foster, a young black doctor who leaves the South in the hopes of finding the professional respect he craves. I felt like I knew them all by the end of the book and have a feeling their stories will stay with me for a long time.

Wilkerson does a masterful job of capturing how pervasive segregation was at that time, even in the North, and also challenges some common mistaken perceptions about the people who took part in the Great Migration, pointing out that they were often better educated and more likely to be married with only a few children than many of the black people who were born in the North at that time. All in all, a book that really deepened my understanding of both history and the ways in which that history has contributed to situations we have now. Highly recommended!!!
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
In the mid-twentieth century, many Southern blacks began to see opportunity in other parts of the country, particularly urban cities such as Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. The author takes the stories of three such migrants and weaves them in such a manner as to show the
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similarities of their experiences even though their experiences were quite different. There's the story of Ida Mae, a black woman from Chickasaw County, Mississippi, who ended up in Chicago where she worked as a nurse's aide while her husband worked in a factory rather than picking cotton as they had done. There's the story of George, a black man from Lake County, Florida, who went from picking oranges to attending passenger train cars. There's also the story of Dr. Robert Foster who went from Louisiana to Los Angeles where he practiced medicine and attended patients such as Ray Charles while becoming increasingly addicted to gambling. I perhaps understood Ida Mae's journey most because of my familiarity with her point of origin as it was the county adjacent to the one in which I grew up. The author has done a superb job weaving the stories together to show a unified theme. I did, however, feel that the story was a bit long and perhaps a little redundant in places. The author has done a great job researching and presenting a story that needed to be told.
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LibraryThing member reannon
This book has been receiving well-deserved rave reviews and been on several lists of best books of the year. It is a marvelous work of scholarship, yet well-written enough to appeal to the lay reader.

The book tells the story of the great migration of blacks from the American South to the North and
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West. It lasted from around World War I up to the seventies, when conditions for blacks in the South began to get better. The migration was partly in hopes of better economic opportunities, but primarily to escape the harsh rule of Jim Crow with its strict segregation and a caste system maintained through violence.

Part of the book gives the facts and statistics about the South and about the migration. At its core, however, is the tale of three people, told in alternating chapters. One is George Starling, who left Florida after death threats when he tried on a small scale to organize labor to ask for better wages. He went to New York an became a baggage handler on the railroads, never able to use his brain and some college education to get a better job.

Second was Ida Mae Gladney, who married young and lived as a sharecropper in Mississippi. She and her husband moved to Chicago.

Third was Robert Pershing Foster from Monroe, Louisiana, a doctor who married the daughter of the President of Atlanta University, who moved to Los Angeles where he hoped to be able to achieve more as a doctor than he could under the limitations on black doctors in the South.

Wilkerson does a masterful job of weaving the strands together, combining oral history with material from primary documents. It is not a book for white Southerners seeking to prove the South under Jim Crow was not that bad - Wilkerson shows in detail how bad it was. She manages to tell the individual stories so that each chapter tells of parallel experiences, even though each story is unique. It is a long book but holds the interest of the reader throughout. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Joycepa
Isabel Wilkerson was a reporter for the New York Times when she decided to examine more closely the Great Migration, in which over 6 million Southern blacks moved from the South to the North over a period of about 60 years, from 1916 to the mid-70s. This book, the result of over 10 years of labor
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involving both research and hundreds of hours of personal interviews, is a beautifully written, easy-to-read narrative of the motives behind the decision to immigrate on the part of blacks, and the lives they led once in the Promised Land, the North. Her story focuses on the lives of three people, from three distinctly different parts of the South, who immigrated during different eras and wound up in the three main “receiving” cities for Southern blacks.

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney left Chickasaw County, Mississippi and a sharecropper’s life in 1937, ending up in Chicago with her husband, 2 children, and pregnant with her 3rd. George Swanson Starling fled Eustis, Florida and certain death from white citrus grove owners during World War II to that Mecca for blacks in New York City, Harlem. Fed up with the limitations imposed on him in Louisiana where, as a qualified surgeon and a former captain in the US Army, he could not practice in white-run hospitals, Robert Pershing Foster left Monroe, Louisiana in 1950 for the glamor and promise of Los Angeles. Although Wilkerson brings in excerpts from the lives of other Southern blacks, these three form the basis of the narrative thread that documents the motives, the hopes and fears, and the experiences of two generations of black people who had the courage to pull up roots and strike out for an unknown country and what they hoped would be better lives for themselves but more importantly, their children.

Wilkerson, through her exhaustive interviews and research, documents the motives (primarily to get away from the horrors of life for blacks under Jim Crow) and the experiences in the North. What these immigrants found was not Heaven; racism existed and was at times almost as virulent as in the South. Segregation, while not official, was still the rule in the North, and the only jobs were those that no one else, including recent immigrants from Europe, wanted. But they did find greater freedom--and far greater educational and career opportunities for their children. They also found the perils of the large, indifferent cities--drugs, crime, gangs--which, unlike assumptions that still exist--were pre-existent; Southern blacks were not the origin. Wilkerson also explodes other myths, such as Southern black immigrants were more poorly educated than Northern blacks, had more single parent families than their Northern counterparts, and were less employed than their Northern brethren.

But what Wilkerson does best is to put a human face on the statistics and on the struggle for a better life. She does not “whitewash”; these are real people, and at least two of them made serious mistakes in their choices and the way they lived. But they led honest, hard-working, upright lives, reflections of the immigrants as a whole, and their stories are both poignant and inspirational--and a lesson in assumptions for all of us.

This book has to be a serious candidate for the Pulitzer Prize in history. Not to be missed.
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LibraryThing member dgmillo
This book is a must read. A thoroughly researched book of the Great Migration with three dramatic personal narratives that help bring home the human reality of all those numbers and statistics. This is the first history book that actually made me cry on more than one occasion.

Even if you think you
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know what the Jim Crow South was like, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Maybe even especially if you think you know what Jim Crow was like.
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LibraryThing member Madamxtra
Thank you Isabel
Your well written documentation of our history should be mandatory reading in every school, beginning in the sixth grade. Had I known more about my fore-family's struggle to carve a life for us in the north, I'm certain that I would have been more sensitive to their habitual need to
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spend every holiday amongst family, while I grumbled about amusement parks and movies.
You have given voice to the dreams (dead or fruitful) and determination that has afforded myself and others like me to live our own impossible dreams. My father would say "You live in the greatest country in the world- you can do or be anything."
Not only did he and my mother believe it, they proved it and set an example of genuine success and leadership. My very own story was told within your pages.
Special thanks to my Aunt Ruthie-Mae, who blazed the trail that would emerge a Chef, a Dentist, a Stock Analyst, a Lieutenant Colonel: USAF, an Actress, a Comedian, a CPA, a Journalist, an LPN, a First Responder, a CPFT, a Civil Engineer, countless Homemakers, Entrepreneurs and Professionals in every walk of life.
Thank you again, for helping me to understand my parents and their choices with a richer and deeper respect than ever before...SMILE!!!
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LibraryThing member DanielDiPlacido
This book is wonderfully, beautifully written. In my opinion it should at least have been nominated for and probably won the National Book Award in 2010. Perhaps it will win the 2011 Pulitzer. I went to bed reading it and I got up in the morning and read it and I thought about it all day long. I
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recommend it highly.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
This is an excellent exploration of the migration of African-Americans from the South to the North and West during the middle third of the 20th century. Through the life stories of three people who moved from Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi to New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, Wilkerson tells
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the story of Jim Crow and of the transformation the Great Migration brought to individual lives, families, and the country as a whole. I learned a lot and came to care about the lives of these three brave and determined individuals. Their lives weren't perfect; the north and west were not as welcoming, generous, or kind as Ida Mae, George, and Robert had hoped. But their stories are the stories of our country. Well-written, fastidiously researched, only occasionally redundant in detail or argument, this is a first-class piece of scholarly narrative.
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