The Warmth of Other Suns

Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration is a compelling work. It won the national book critics circle award for nonfiction. In its acknowledgement she expressed the greatest measure of gratitude for Ida Mae Gladney, George Swanson Startling, and Robert Pershing Foster, the people who gave so much of themselves to a book they did not see.

Wilkerson captured what it was like for Blacks to live in America. She focused mainly on the living conditions in the Jim Crow South and their experiences in the North and West. Her antagonists had previously lived in Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Florida. With the great migration they moved to New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Wisconsin, and California among other places.

Many of these migrants worked in the cotton belt and or picked fruits in Florida. They were abused, worked extremely long hours, feared for their lives, and witnessed lynching. They escaped such brutality of extreme pressure as trains brought them to their destination in northern cities. Robert Foster was somewhat different because he had a medical education, and decided to drive to California to establish himself. His trials were just as bad as the laboring class because it was difficult for him to find lodging at hotels, set up a practice, and to have getaways to Las Vegas.

Although many Blacks who migrated from the South were better off from those that were left behind, still they were faced with opposition from whites where they settled. This was because of the color of their skin. The jobs they were able to get was the lowest on the totem pole. This was particularly hard for Black women. Often, white workers at factories refused to work with Blacks. Housing was also a problem, so Blacks were mostly crowded in the less desirous districts of northern cities.

These conditions led to riots in the North. Undoubtedly, there was a caste system that favored whites whether they were Western or Eastern European immigrants. It was NAACP that took up the cause of Blacks and were fighting for their rights. Gradually, Civil rights leaders emerged like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., the Kerner Commission was a landmark decision, [ET1] and President Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964 that paved the way for social change.

It was estimated that over six million African Americans migrated North and West. They accounted for America’s diversity of mayors, politicians, actors, singers, teachers, business men and women, musicians, sportsmen and women, government and non-governmental professionals, and workers of all sorts.   


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