Yet another book filling in the gaps of my education. I could make this whole review a rant of how most American history tends to skip over everyone who isn’t white and male, but I’ll resist. The Warmth of Other Suns tells the history of The Great Migration, the period in history when 6 million black people fled the South and its Jim Crow laws to make a better life for themselves in the North and West. This migration was a big fucking deal that influenced the United States in many, many ways, and yet, I was never taught it in school. The mind boggles.
Wilkerson wisely decided to tell this large, unwieldy history through the eyes of three real life migrants. First was Ida Mae Gladney who left Mississippi sharecropping with her husband and children in 1937 to head north to Chicago. Next was George Starling who fled Florida in 1945 after making waves by demanding to get paid a fair wage for picking citrus. Staying in Florida was not an option if he wanted to keep his life. And last was Robert Foster who left Louisiana in 1953 to practice medicine in California after becoming a doctor and serving in the army. This diverse cast of characters helps paint a personal picture of The Great Migration throughout the decades.
The Warmth of Other Suns isn’t a short book, but Wilkerson’s fluid and propelling writing style make it feel half the length it is. Her characters are extremely interesting and she weaves their stories together effortlessly. The only minor criticism I have is that she repeats herself occasionally to drive home certain points she’s trying to get across. I understand the impulse, but it felt unnecessary. I’d say this is the perfect book for history lovers, but it’s also a great book for people like me who don’t read much history or nonfiction because Wilderson focuses in on people instead of events.