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

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

by Isabel Wilkerson

Narrated by Robin Miles

Unabridged — 22 hours, 41 minutes

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

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

by Isabel Wilkerson

Narrated by Robin Miles

Unabridged — 22 hours, 41 minutes

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Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

One of those nonfiction books that will continue to surprise you, The Warmth of Other Suns details the massive movement of Black Americans out of the South and to the North and West. This is a work of massive importance, and it is written with an immensely approachable voice to boot.

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.

NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER
LYNTON HISTORY PRIZE WINNER
HEARTLAND AWARD WINNER
DAYTON LITERARY PEACE PRIZE FINALIST

NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times ¿ USA Today ¿ O: The Oprah Magazine ¿ Amazon ¿ Publishers Weekly ¿ Salon ¿ Newsday ¿ The Daily Beast

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New Yorker ¿ The Washington Post ¿ The Economist ¿ Boston Globe ¿ San Francisco Chronicle ¿ Chicago Tribune ¿ Entertainment Weekly ¿ Philadelphia Inquirer ¿ The Guardian ¿ The Seattle Times ¿ St. Louis Post-Dispatch ¿ The Christian Science Monitor

From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.

With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.

Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.


Editorial Reviews

Paula J. Giddings

…[an] extraordinary and evocative work…
—The Washington Post

Janet Maslin

…a landmark piece of nonfiction…[Wilkerson] works on a grand, panoramic scale but also on a very intimate one, since this work of living history boils down to the tenderly told stories of three rural Southerners who immigrated to big cities from their hometowns. She winds up with a mesmerizing book that warrants comparison to The Promised Land, Nicholas Lemann's study of the Great Migration's early phase, and Common Ground, J. Anthony Lukas's great, close-range look at racial strife in Boston.
—The New York Times

Publishers Weekly

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by "the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town." 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 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. (Sept.)

From the Publisher

A landmark piece of nonfiction . . . [Isabel Wilkerson’s] closeness with, and profound affection for, her subjects reflect her deep immersion in their stories and allow the reader to share that connection.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“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 his fiction masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath; she humanizes history, giving it emotional and psychological depth.”—John Stauffer, The Wall Street Journal

“[A] massive and masterly account of the Great Migration . . . a narrative epic rigorous enough to impress all but the crankiest of scholars, yet so immensely readable as to land the author a future place on Oprah’s couch.”—David Oshinsky, The New York Times Book Review

“[A] deeply affecting, finely crafted and heroic book . . . 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.”—Jill Lepore, The New Yorker

“Told in a voice that echoes the magic cadences of Toni Morrison or the folk wisdom of Zora Neale Hurston’s collected oral histories, Wilkerson’s book pulls not just the expanse of the migration into focus but its overall impact on politics, literature, music, sports—in the nation and the world.”—Lynell George, Los Angeles Times

“[An] extraordinary and evocative work.”The Washington Post

“Mesmerizing.”Chicago Tribune

“Scholarly but very readable, this book, for all its rigor, is so absorbing, it should come with a caveat: Pick it up only when you can lose yourself entirely.”O: The Oprah Magazine
 
"[An] indelible and compulsively readable portrait of race, class, and politics in twentieth-century America. History is rarely distilled so finely.”Entertainment Weekly

“Astonishing . . . Isabel Wilkerson delivers! . . . With the precision of a surgeon, Wilkerson illuminates the stories of bold, faceless African-Americans who transformed cities and industries with their hard work and determination to provide their children with better lives.”Essence

“Profound, necessary and an absolute delight to read.”—Toni Morrison

“A sweeping and yet deeply personal tale of America’s hidden twenteith-century history. This is an epic for all Americans who want to understand the making of our modern nation.”—Tom Brokaw

“A seminal work of narrative nonfiction . . . You will never forget these people.”—Gay Talese

“This book will be long remembered, and savored.”—Jon Meacham

“A masterful narrative of the rich wisdom and deep courage of a great people. Don’t miss it!”—Cornel West

David Oshinsky

…[a] massive and masterly account of the Great Migration…Based on more than a thousand interviews, written in broad imaginative strokes, this book, at 622 pages, is something of an anomaly in today's shrinking world of nonfiction publishing: a narrative epic rigorous enough to impress all but the crankiest of scholars, yet so immensely readable as to land the author a future place on Oprah's couch.
—The New York Times Book Review

Atlanta Journal Constitution

[The Warmth of Other Suns] power arises from its close attention to intimate details in the lives of regular people…..if you want to learn about what being a migrant felt like, read Wilkerson. Her intimate portraits convey – as no book prior ever has – what the migration meant to those who were a part of it….The Warmth of Other Suns stands as a vital contribution to our understanding of the black American experience and of the unstoppable social movement that shaped modern America.”

Entertainment Weekly

''[Black Southerners] did not cross the turnstiles of customs at Ellis Island. They were already citizens. But where they came from, they were not treated as such,'' writes Isabel Wilkerson in The Warmth of Other Suns, her sprawling and stunning account of the Great Migration, the 55-year stretch (1915–70) during which 6 million black Americans fled the Jim Crow South. 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 finely.” Grade: A

JANUARY 2012 - AudioFile

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson’s extraordinary history of the twentieth-century migration of Southern black citizens to Northern and Western cities is narrated in standard American English by Robin Miles. But this is a book rich in dialogue. In the melted-butter drawls of rural Southern sharecroppers and in the crisp accents of Northern factory workers, Miles captures the voices of Black America. Through them, she gives voice to the plight of black Americans who found the courage and opportunity to flee Jim Crow laws in the South and embark on an almost invisible migration that changed the face of a country forever. Wilkerson’s highly acclaimed book is hard to put down, and Miles’s interpretation makes it almost impossible. S.K.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2012, Portland, Maine

Product Details

BN ID: 2940169527032
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication date: 03/01/2011
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 200,284

Read an Excerpt

In the Land of the Forefathers

Our mattresses were made

of corn shucks

and soft gray Spanish moss

that hung from the trees. . . .

From the swamps

we got soup turtles

and baby alligators

and from the woods

we got raccoon,

rabbit and possum.

—Mahalia Jackson, Movin’ On Up



Leaving

This land is first and foremost

his handiwork.

It was he who brought order

out of primeval wilderness . . .

Wherever one looks in this land,

whatever one sees that is the work of man,

was erected by the toiling

straining bodies of blacks.

—David L. Cohn, God Shakes Creation

They fly from the land that bore them.

—W. H. Stillwell

1

Chickasaw County, Mississippi, Late October 1937

ida mae brandon gladney

the night clouds were closing in on the salt licks east of the oxbow lakes along the folds in the earth beyond the Yalobusha River. The cotton was at last cleared from the field. Ida Mae tried now to get the children ready and to gather the clothes and quilts and somehow keep her mind off the churning within her. She had sold off the turkeys and doled out in secret the old stools, the wash pots, the tin tub, the bed pallets. Her husband was settling with Mr. Edd over the worth of a year’s labor, and she did not know what would come of it. None of them had been on a train before—not unless you counted the clattering local from Bacon Switch to Okolona, where, “by the time you sit down, you there,” as Ida Mae put it. None of them had been out of Mississippi. Or Chickasaw County, for that matter.

There was no explaining to little James and Velma the stuffed bags and chaos and all that was at stake or why they had to put on their shoes and not cry and bring undue attention from anyone who might happen to see them leaving. Things had to look normal, like any other time they might ride into town, which was rare enough to begin with.

Velma was six. She sat with her ankles crossed and three braids in her hair and did what she was told. James was too little to understand. He was three. He was upset at the commotion. Hold still now, James. Lemme put your shoes on, Ida Mae told him. James wriggled and kicked. He did not like shoes. He ran free in the field. What were these things? He did not like them on his feet. So Ida Mae let him go barefoot.

Miss Theenie stood watching. One by one, her children had left her and gone up north. Sam and Cleve to Ohio. Josie to Syracuse. Irene to Milwaukee. Now the man Miss Theenie had tried to keep Ida Mae from marrying in the first place was taking her away, too. Miss Theenie had no choice but to accept it and let Ida Mae and the grandchildren go for good. Miss Theenie drew them close to her, as she always did whenever anyone was leaving. She had them bow their heads. She whispered a prayer that her daughter and her daughter’s family be protected on the long journey ahead in the Jim Crow car.

“May the Lord be the first in the car,” she prayed, “and the last out.”

When the time had come, Ida Mae and little James and Velma and all that they could carry were loaded into a brother-in-law’s truck, and the three of them went to meet Ida Mae’s husband at the train depot in Okolona for the night ride out of the bottomland.

2

Wildwood, Florida, April 14, 1945

george swanson starling

a man named roscoe colton gave Lil George Starling a ride in his pickup truck to the train station in Wildwood through the fruit-bearing scrubland of central Florida. And Schoolboy, as the toothless orange pickers mockingly called him, boarded the Silver Meteor pointing north.

A railing divided the stairs onto the train, one side of the railing for white passengers, the other for colored, so the soles of their shoes would not touch the same stair. He boarded on the colored side of the railing, a final reminder from the place of his birth of the absurdity of the world he was leaving.

He was getting out alive. So he didn’t let it bother him. “I got on the car where they told me to get on,” he said years later.

He hadn’t had time to bid farewell to everyone he wanted to. He stopped to say good-bye to Rachel Jackson, who owned a little café up on what they called the Avenue and the few others he could safely get to in the little time he had. He figured everybody in Egypt town, the colored section of Eustis, probably knew he was leaving before he had climbed onto the train, small as the town was and as much as people talked.

It was a clear afternoon in the middle of April. He folded his tall frame into the hard surface of the seat, his knees knocking against the seat back in front of him. He was packed into the Jim Crow car, where the railroad stored the luggage, when the train pulled away at last. He was on the run, and he wouldn’t rest easy until he was out of range of Lake County, beyond the reach of the grove owners whose invisible laws he had broken.

The train rumbled past the forest of citrus trees that he had climbed since he was a boy and that he had tried to wrestle some dignity out of and, for a time, had. They could have their trees. He wasn’t going to lose his life over them. He had come close enough as it was.

He had lived up to his family’s accidental surname. Starling. Distant cousin to the mockingbird. He had spoken up about what he had seen in the world he was born into, like the starling that sang Mozart’s own music back to him or the starling out of Shakespeare that tormented the king by speaking the name of Mortimer. Only, George was paying the price for tormenting the ruling class that owned the citrus groves. There was no place in the Jim Crow South for a colored starling like him.

He didn’t know what he would do once he got to New York or what his life would be. He didn’t know how long it would take before he could send for Inez. His wife was mad right now, but she’d get over it once he got her there. At least that’s what he told himself. He turned his face to the North and sat with his back to Florida.

Leaving as he did, he figured he would never set foot in Eustis again for as long as he lived. And as he settled in for the twenty-three-hour train ride up the coast of the Atlantic, he had no desire to have anything to do with the town he grew up in, the state of Florida, or the South as a whole, for that matter.

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