The epic history The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson sat on my want-to-read list for a long time. Its size was daunting. Because our church book group chose it for discussion, I finally borrowed it as an audiobook and dove in. Finding the stories compelling and having much early summer gardening to do (time good for listening), I finished its 19 discs (23 hours) in a little over a week.
In her afterward, Wilkerson tells how she researched the migration of blacks from the South to the North, Midwest, and West between 1900 and 1970. Her interest began with her mother's escape from the South. She took that story as inspiration and identified many other migration stories, but in the end, she chose just three stories to tell in detail. Three is the magic number in this book. The stories have three origins: Mississippi, Florida, and Louisiana. These migrations took place in the 1930s, the 1940s, and the 1950s, each with a different quality. The cities to which the migrants moved were Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.
Though the journeys began and ended in different places, the people about whom Wilkerson wrote had many similar stories to tell. Jim Crow laws made their lives in the South intolerable and dangerous. Leaving on short notice or without alerting whites who would want to stop them presented a challenge. They all found their new lives better but still subject to acts of discrimination.
Having read numerous books about race relations in American history, I did not expect to be surprised by the cruelty described in this book, but Wilkerson's research unearthed injustices I had not imagined. I felt anger rising as I read about the theft, torture, and murder allowed under Jim Crow laws. Others in our book group reported similar reactions.
We filled our evening with questions, memories, and observations, as The Warmth of Other Suns proved a worthy discussion book as well as a good read.
Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. Random House, 2010. 622p. ISBN 9780679444329.
Audiobook. Brilliance Audio, 2011. 19 compact discs. ISBN 9781455814237.