This review is in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day 2012.
In the 17 years that I’ve lived here I’ve tried to learn more about American history. You know, all the stuff that you learned in school and already know that the rest of the world ignores, stuff like the Louisiana Purchase, the Mayflower, Benedict Arnold, yada yada.
I wasn’t even in the U.S. when I read the Warmth of Other Suns. I can’t remember how or where I came across the book but I do remember that the subtitle “The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” stopped me in my tracks. America had a great migration? When? Where? Who moved and where did they go?
The Warmth of Other Suns is a huge research work and absolutely a significant contribution to the canon of American history but it is also a book about people and it is a story that even you, who learned all the top-line history facts in school, would benefit from reading.
In this book Wilkerson chronicles a movement that impacted up to six million people. Over the course of two to three generations it changed the face of many communities and cities in the United States. She interviewed a thousand people in researching this book and it shows. In reading it, you learn about the lives they had, the places they decided to move from, the journeys they took and the lives they and their families built in their new homes.
This book is an epic yet I found that Wilkerson’s focus on the stories of three individuals who were part of this migration a narrative tool that made it an compelling and enjoyable read. This is not an easy read – as befits the experiences and anecdotes told within. These are people who were running from hate, prejudice and grinding poverty mostly to a complete unknown. But you owe it to yourself, on this MLK Day, to pick it up, read it and understand more deeply the wrongs that the Civil Rights Movement helped right.