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The Warmth of Other Suns

Wrapping Up Our Discussion of “The Warmth of Other Suns”

This is a book I was sorry to finish. When I reached the end, I wanted more stories of Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster. I want to begin to bring the discussion to a close with a quote from the author’s introduction:

“The actions of the people in this book were both universal and distinctly American. Their migration was a response to an economic and social structure not of their making. They did what humans have done for centuries when life became untenable — what the pilgrims did under the tyranny of British rule, what the Scotch-Irish did in Oklahoma when the land turned to dust, what the Irish did when there was nothing to eat, what the European Jews did during the spread of Nazism, what the landless in Russia, Italy, China, and elsewhere did when something better across the ocean called to them. What binds these stories together was the back-against-the-wall, reluctant yet hopeful search for something better, any place but where they were. They did what human beings looking for freedom, throughout history, have often done.

They left.”

Through reading and discussing this book, I learned more about a the history of this country and a few things about myself. Please share with us your own parting thoughts about this book, and the tough topics it addresses.

Join us next week as Molly Keener begins the discussion of JK Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy”.

Author, Isabel Wilkerson, at Reynolda House

On Sunday, October 21st, I had the pleasure of hearing author, Isabel Wilkerson, discuss “The Warmth of Other Suns” at Reynolda House. She discussed the influence this book has had on readers, black and white, who were unaware of the depth of violence under Jim Crow and how young people today (thankfully) cannot fathom the world of Jim Crow. She told how the parents of artist, Romare Bearden, moved from Charlotte to New York, after the toddler, Bearden, who was light-skinned, with curly blond hair, was nearly taken by a white mob from his darker-skinned father.(1)In closing her talk, she read the Richard Wright quote that was the source for the title of this book.

“I was leaving the South
to fling myself into the unknown . . .
I was taking a part of the South
to transplant in alien soil,
to see if it could grow differently,
if it could drink of new and cool rains,
bend in strange winds,
respond to the warmth of other suns
and, perhaps, to bloom”
― Richard Wright

Then she said she had another thought to add to that quote. She said “and those other suns were in them all along.” She discussed how the book was about freedom, and the lengths people will go to in order to be free. She talked of how the children of the participants of the Great Migration, herself included, often feeling like “southerners, once removed”.

It was an excellent program and an amazing opportunity to learn more about the creation of this monumental book.

We’ve talked about those who migrated, but what about those who stayed, those who continued to suffer under Jim Crow and those who gave up their lives in staying, and what about the children and grand children of this migration who now choose to return to the south? Wilkerson referred to this as the “reverse migration.” Let’s discuss those who stayed and those who came back.

Education as a theme in “The Warmth of Other Suns”

In “The Warmth of Other Suns”, Wilkerson introduces us to three characters, Ida Mae Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster. Robert Joseph Pershing Foster is a military-trained physician who finds that as an African American, he is not allowed to practice medicine in Monroe, Louisiana and George Swanson Starling is unable finish college when his father refuses to help him pay his tuition because he sees his son’s education as a waste. As a result George is forced to find work in the citrus groves. Robert is not allowed to use his education and George is not allowed to get an education. Education creates opportunities for people, but African Americans in the South were not permitted those opportunities for much of the 20th century. As Wake Forest commemorates the 50th anniversary of integration with the Faces of Courage celebration, honoring the legacy and important actions of all those – past and present — contributing to the diverse and vibrant campus community, let’s discuss the theme of education in “The Warmth of Other Suns”.

Other Migrations

One question from the Reading Group Guide on Wilkerson’s site asks, “In what ways was the Great Migration of southern blacks similar to other historical migrations? In what important ways was it unique?.” This made me think about other smaller migrations we see in this country, for example, the migration of young gay people from rural communities to urban city centers. Let’s discuss other historical migrations and they are similar or different to the Great Migration of southern blacks to the North and West.

“The Warmth of Other Suns”

Welcome to our discussion of Isabel Wilkerson’s, “The Warmth of Other Suns”. Wilkerson’s epic book tells the story of The Great Migration, which lasted from 1915 to 1970, involved six million people and was one of the largest internal migrations in U.S. history. By blending the stories of three families that leave to escape the Jim Crow South, with the historical events of that time, Wilkerson creates a compelling work that Toni Morrison called ”profound, necessary, and a delight to read.” This work is based on interviews with 1,200 people who participated in the Migration as well as census data from that time period.

This National Book Critics Circle Award Winner and New York Times Top 10 Best Book of the Year was chosen as the “On The Same Page” community read project by the Winston Salem, Forsyth County Public Library. Those bookclub participants in the area may wish to participate in some of the “On The Same Page” events, including a discussion of the book at Wake Forest University on Tuesday, October 16th from 7-9pm in the ZSR Library, classroom 476.

I would like to begin our online discussion of this important work with one of the questions provided from the author’s website. “In many ways The Warmth of Other Suns seeks to tell a new story—about the Great Migration of southern blacks to the north—and to set the record straight about the true significance of that migration. What are the most surprising revelations in the book? What misconceptions does Wilkerson dispel?”