Book review: “The Warmth of Other Suns”

Ian Shapiro, Staff Writer

Isabel Wilkerson’s book, ”The Warmth of Other Suns,” describes the Great Migration — the migration of black Americans from the South to the North and West during the early to mid 20th century — through the lens of those who experienced it firsthand. The story is told from the perspectives of three black Americans living through the oppression of the Jim Crow South, who risked their lives and jobs in search of better existences for themselves and for their families.

The story is divided into five parts, throughout which Wilkerson includes anecdotes from each subject’s lives. The first portion covers the characters’ beginnings, explaining the circumstances that prompted them to leave the South. The second part then explores the struggles and pains of leaving everything behind in the South to seek a new life elsewhere.

The third section seamlessly builds off of the second,  describing the authentic experience of the journey northward. The fourth portion then explains what the destinations — New York, Chicago, Oakland, Washington and Detroit — were actually like. Finally, the fifth part, which I found to be the most interesting and complex, explores the migration’s immense impact through phenomena such as white flight, suburbanization and dramatic changes to urban life, not only on the South and its population, but also on the big cities in the North.

I highly recommend this book, mainly for its depth of research and historical accuracy, but also for its engaging storytelling and clear-cut narrative. It fits in perfectly with Urban’s U.S. history curriculum, in which Remaking America and  America Transformed explore this undiscussed migration. The book is a heavy read — almost 600 pages — but  well worth it to witness Wilkinson’s ability to capture the emotions of each character while relating major themes to the repercussions this movement still has today, including the sprawl of modern cities, white flight, and the ghettoization of black communities within urban centers.

“The Warmth of Other Suns” is an engrossing read with the potential to deepen the reader’s understanding of an often overlooked period in time.