The Warmth of Other Suns

Posted on February 1, 2019

The Warmth of Other Suns

“History is written by the victors.” Winston Churchill

Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration was my favorite read of 2018 (though it’s been out since 2010). Suggested by my friend Danny Henley during a training in El Monte California I immediately got it in audiobook format. Most books that I read for work, I try not to read/listen to during off work hours as I need time away from thinking about trauma.

Wilkerson’s work was one of the rare exceptions of a book I started listening to in order to inform my work and it ended up dominating my thinking for weeks (the audiobook is close to 23 hours, but you’ll wish it was longer!). Warmth of Other Suns chronicles the journey of blacks out of the Jim Crow South to the East, Midwest, and West. Told through personal accounts and family histories, the stories combine to shed light on one of history’s most significant human migration and how it changed the United States forever.

As I worked my way through the book, I kept wondering, why the heck did I never learn about this in school? Maybe it was because of the Churchill quote above and those with power over what I read did not to spend too much time on lynching and the racism of Jim Crow. While my education was structured in the white majority view of history, those brave people that fill the pages of Warmth are undoubtedly the winners even if they are yet to collect their full prize.

Risking their lives to escape the South (escape is the right word as the South did not want to give up its cheap labor source), men and women sought the perceived freedoms and opportunities of the north and west. Even when they crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, the promises of Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., or New York never quite delivered on that “all men are created equal” statement we love to hold up. While few white folks in power come off as the good guy, the mass migration transformed communities and, in this transformation, came opportunities that those in the South couldn’t even dream.

If you have not read Warmth, you must. It informs us about a history still alive in the systematic racism felt by these ancestors of these brave people. We can not lose this history and hopefully one day Wilkerson’s work will prove Churchill right that “History is written by the victors.”

2 responses to “The Warmth of Other Suns”

  1. Howard Eisenson says:

    Thanks for this review – I’ve had this book on my shelf for two years, daunted by the size – but you’ve motivated me to actually read it. I highly recommend another book, Blood Done Signed My Name, by history professor and NC native Tim Tyson. Well written combination memoir and documentary of an outrage illustrating a sad chapter on racial relations in NC (and southern states) history. ….especially of interest to me as I work in a community health center in NC.

    • Matthew Bennett says:

      Thanks Howard, I think you’ll be glad you picked it up! It is big, but I couldn’t put it down and was sad when I finished it. “Blood” is on my reading list, thanks for the suggestion!

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