The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (2010) by Isabel Wilkerson, New York: Random House.

June 2014

While I was at Hamline University, I had the distinct pleasure of introducing Ms. Wilkerson at a lecture when she won the Pulitzer Prize in journalism. The first Black women to win a Pulitzer in the field of journalism, I remember how poised, detailed, and animated she was about the award and the story she had written.  When I met her a second time at a reception prior to her lecture at the University of Northern Iowa pertaining to this book, she remembered our previous connection and I was instantly enthralled with her once again.  As I attended the lecture, which was a capacity crowd in the Gallagher Bluedorn, I was so very proud of the university for hosting such a magnificent presence and I was eager to read my autographed copy of the book.  I was so excited that I bought copies of the book for every member on the leadership team.  During that time, I had grand hopes of completing the book that year.  Now it is 2014, and finally I completed the book.

The story of the Great Migration is the study of the movement of African Americans from the South to the North.  This epic novel captured the migration from the 1920s to the 1960s.  The author focused on three distinct characters who hailed from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida as they navigated to Las Vegas, Chicago, and New York.  The individual stories are threaded throughout the books across historical and situational events and comparative incidents.  This cradle to the grave novel took extensive research that lasted more than 10 years.  Ms. Wilkerson’s narrative writing and detailed capturing of interviews, anecdotes, and documents was powerful and informative.  As I read the various stories, the author was able to focus on the propelling events that mitigated the initial migration, the actual migration and how the characters traversed to their new location, their resettlement in the new area, the trials and tribulations of the relocation, and the living testimonies of the historical events of the characters’ lives.  The ebb and flow of the events and the blending and separation of the three distinct lives were simply mesmerizing.

Personally, I found the book to be a revelation as it filled in historical gaps in my learning.  I found the book to be compelling as I reflected on the richness of the lives of the three characters.  I found the book to be generative as it instilled in my heart the legacy of these pioneers who paved the way to Civil Rights.  This book can be read in small doses and then revisited across time, but also once you start the book it may be difficult to put it down.  I encourage you to make this your summer read. 

Dr. Dwight C. Watson, Dean
College of Education

University of Northern Iowa