I saw it first on social media. Last year, my oldest sister posted on Facebook about Isabel Wilkerson’s bestselling book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. After seeing my sister’s comments, several members of my family decided to make time to read it and gain more context to her praises.
The paperback copy of the book went from my sister’s house in Chicago to my parents’ home in Los Angeles. In December, I went to California for a capoeira event and stopped in LA to visit my parents. My mother had just finished The Warmth of Other Suns; I packed the book intending to begin it on the plane and complete it in January.
I finished the book last week. Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Suns, is 622 pages, including the index. Yes, it is long but full of vivid stories describing the journeys of people who have persevered through considerable opposition.
If you're quarantined and looking for something to do, I want to recommend that you read this book. You can learn about the multiple reasons that Black Americans left the South after emancipation. They moved to places such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles for more than the chance to see big cities.
The horrific practice of lynching people of African descent pushed many to uproot their entire families from southern states. Emmitt Till was one of the countless lives lost for alleged offenses against the social codes of the South. As Wilkerson’s book explains, while slavery had ended, many of the barbaric mechanisms for control remained in place.
My ancestors left the South in search of freedom. As Wilkerson writes, "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." This quote captures the thinking behind many families of The Great Migration and relocation decisions made today.
I resonated with the stories in The Warmth of Other Suns for multiple reasons. A portion of my family is from Shreveport, Louisiana. My grandparents moved to Los Angeles, where they raised my mother and her twelve siblings. I was born and raised in Chicago. Two of the main characters in Isabel Wilkerson's book lived in LA and Chicago.
My wife and I moved abroad to give our children something different. Before leaving the unpredictable weather of Chicago, we perceived the literal warmth of the sun in Mexico as a come-up or improvement. Our leave, similar to the families depicted in the book, also included the desire to create entrepreneurial income and gain more control of our family’s destiny.
We wanted to be free from the financial challenges and potential dangers that too often come with life in the States. The thirty-year housing mortgage, credit card debt, and car loans restricted our lifestyle choices. My wife and I also didn’t want to think about myself or our children becoming another victim of senseless police violence.
Please, don't get it twisted. Life abroad is not a paradise. Many of our financial burdens returned, and there are moments when safety remains a concern.
However, pursuing interests and lifestyles outside your comfort zone can empower you to grow in ways that may seem impossible in your current environment. My wife and I have found that our unconventional paths are leading us to reach our physical, mental, and spiritual peaks.
Self-isolation provides us with this opportunity to reevaluate our lives. Quarantines offer us the time to read historical books, such as The Warmth of Other Suns, that empower us to discover how others have survived during challenging periods. With the awareness of past struggles, we can access inconceivable internal strengths to lift ourselves and our families during this heavy time.
The genius of Trevor Noah does an excellent job of using humor to explain how racism and an inadequate healthcare system partner to influence the disproportionate impact of COVID-19’s impact on the Black community. Many of the structural problems that pushed millions of Black families to leave the South remain with us today. See Noah’s skit for The Daily Show by clicking here.
If you are struggling to find hope or something meaningful to do with your time, read Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. There are kindle and Audible versions available that you can download without leaving your home.
Have a safe, productive week, and share this post with one person in self-isolation.