The Warmth of Other Suns
Add this one to your nonfiction list, especially if you are a fan of history. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson is a compilation of personal accounts of the Great Migration. Wilkerson interviewed three migrants, Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, Dr. Robert Pershing Foster, and tells their stories of moving out of the Jim Crow south to northern cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. These stories are so important and this is a topic that is often glossed over in history class. These migrants changed the landscape of the United States, bringing their cultures, traditions, and values to northern and western states.
I listened to the audio of The Warmth of Other Suns and the narration was fabulous. Chapters shifted between each persons story, but the narrator was seamless with the transitions and it was easy to follow. This book is part investigative journalism with facts and accounts from thousands of southern migrants, blended with the stories of Ida Mae, George Sterling, and Dr. Robert Foster. Each left a different location in the south, at a different time, but for ultimately the same reason: for a better life. They each achieved that, but with a hefty cost and it was far from an easy feat.
Some of the stories that stuck with me were those where the migrants felt hopeful that they left Jim Crow behind them, only to be met with the same racial tension and prejudices. Dr. Robert Foster was met with hostility when he tried to find a hotel room to rest in after driving for days through the desert, on his way to Los Angeles. Ida Mae quietly settled into Chicago life, working blue collar jobs, such as housekeeping, where she was met with unwanted sexual advances from her wealthier white employers. George Starling activist pride followed him to Harlem, where he risked his job fighting for civil rights, allowing poor Black boys to hide and hitch rides on the trains he rode for work, never giving their secrets away. Each of these individuals lived a different life, in a different area of the United States, yet had so much in common.
Their stories are powerful and ones that need to be shared. Wilkerson did an amazing job compiling all of their stories into The Warmth of Other Suns. My hope is that books like this make it into high school history curriculum because this is a piece of US history that needs to be told.