(story)time: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson


The year is winding to a close, whether I’m ready for it or not. I was talking to someone the other day at the bookstore about the books I’ve read this year, and she asked me which book was the most important on that list.

I didn’t hesitate in my reply.

If you haven’t read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson yet, I hope that you can find a place for it on your upcoming reading list. I reserved it from the library, and waited for a few weeks until a copy was available. I took my time with this book, reading just a chapter or two a night.

Isabel Wilkerson transforms the bullet point in our American History textbooks on the Great Migration into a complex telling of a movement of people from the southeastern region of the country to the northeast, the midwest, and the west coast, over the course of sixty+ years, by weaving three personal narratives from that era together into this story. Wilkerson doesn’t merely interview three people for this book, she becomes a part of their lives for the better part of a decade in their later years, listening to their stories, reading their letters, talking to their neighbors and children, driving them to doctor’s appointments and church potlucks and funerals. Each person represents a different genesis point in the south, and different times and circumstances for leaving. All of these factors dictate the course of their migration path, and understanding these forces and these paths provides a foundation for understanding so many issues and struggles of today.

I’m not a professional book reviewer, and I’ve struggled to write this post because I feared that I could not do this book justice. All I can do is speak to the way this book spoke to me on so many levels, and encourage you to add it to your reading list.

The measure of a man’s estimate of your strength,” he finally told them, “is the kind of weapons he feels that he must use in order to hold you fast in a prescribed place.”

4 Responses to (story)time: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

  1. I agree, while reading it I was overwhelmed with what I did not know and what I was not taught. I bought copies for our middle school and high school libraries–this hidden history needs to be taught in St. Louis schools, now!

    • I agree. Pick a topic – it’s all there. Industrialization, city growth and demarcation, thriving and failing school districts, family structure, family income levels, religious traditions, food, culture, our prison system, policing, banking and real estate systems – any number of these issues and more – so much of their history is traced in this book. It should certainly be a resource in every high school classroom.

  2. I just started the book, pg. 52, after your reccomendation. Having joined the diaspora myself near the end in 1970, I am interested to see how others view the life and times of the era in which I grew up. As silly a thing as skin pigmentation made me a member of the privileged class, but couldn’t save me from the narrow views and stunted economic prospects of making an adult life for myself in the Deep South. It did, however, mean that my leaving could be voluntary, not forced, and that I could find “home” in a small KY town not so wrencihingly different from where I grew up. The difference was literally academic – a small liberal arts college with an enlightened and tolerant view of the world. Two roads diverged – and that has made all the difference. Clear as a bell in hindsight.

  3. Adding to the list. Thanks for the recommendation
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