One reviewer wrote:
"Some historians, moreover, may question Wilkerson’s approach to her subject. She tends to privilege the migrants’ personal feelings over structural influences like the coming of the mechanical cotton picker, which pushed untold thousands of Southern blacks from the fields, or the intense demand for wartime factory labor, which pulled thousands more to manufacturing cities in the North."
What are your thoughts on Wilkerson’s approach?
The approach is what makes the book so unique and good. She uses personal stories to draw the reader in. Most of us have already been exposed to the mundane "textbook" information about the industrial revolution. These stories are real, focusing on "everyday" people who struggled to gain financial independence as well as respect as human beings.
I agree with Patrick that Wilkerson's approach draws the reader in and she chose three different experiences to show the diversity of the migration. She also makes it clear that this was not a "one size fits all" story. The reviewer says that she discounts the role of the mechanization of cotton picking, something I had heard as a possible push factor. After reading what Wilkerson says about mechanization and the boll weevil (another argument I had heard for the migration) on page 533 and 534, her argument makes a lot more sense. Not all these migrants were cotton pickers - George and Robert being good examples. I really loved this book and learned so much from it. It was so great to read about some of the places and people I was familiar with - among them was Sheriff McCall of Lake County - I can remember reading about him in the local paper and cheering when he finally was not reelected to office. I love the introspective analysis that Wilkerson did about the regrets or accomplishments of each migrant. She really got to know her "characters".
No one book is going to satisfy everyone. Wilkerson’s approach, a popular, oral history, works brilliantly. The structural influences are for the monographs. I was thoroughly engaged by the writing and characters. Her format prompted me to ask family members questions in a way that an academic work does not. This book is a conversation starter; the academic history fills in additional details. She provides enough perspective to give the story coherence and to push the interested reader to the next level.
This is what I liked about the book. It was the history of individuals, not some boring textbook play by play. This is what kids need. They need to see themselves in historical characters to really identify with the history.
I am so grateful that I got to meet Wilkerson. I hope that she comes back to town and that if she does, that she will come to the restaurant so I can have a chat with her.
As a closing piece, George Starling is buried here in Eustis. I am going to make it a point to go to the Mt. Olive Cemetery and pay my respects .
I truly enjoyed this read.
I agree with Shauna that this is the type of history that has power not only for us but for students. I enjoyed it as much as the rest of you. Laura, you make a great point about the careful selection of her subjects to show the diversity within the story. Before reading this book my impression of the Great Migration was very "South goes North to escape racism" and obviously that is nowhere near the total story. Interweaving personal stories within the larger narrative helps put a human face on these often otherwise dry and distant (both emotionally and physically in time/space) events. As much as I love history, I can still easily find myself bored by a historian who does not share enough personal touches. Wilkerson kept me reading, whether it was one of the primary source chapters or the broader story. Personal stories grab emotion, and that's what we remember as humans--things that trigger us to "feel." By combining strategies, Wilkerson keeps our attention, elicits our emotions, and ultimately leads us to remember significant breadth and depth of information about the Great Migration. (And I expect to remember what I've read years down the road--how many other history books can I say that about?) Thank you, Shauna, for bringing this book discussion to us.
I really enjoyed how the story was told with all of the individual stories. It makes you really appreciate what had happened on a national and personal level together. It makes the story more approachable and interesting. It is easy to make connections with the people who lived the events.
I agree with the reviewer that more concrete push and pull factors are not Wilkerson’s primary focus in Warmth, but I believe her intent was to tell the story of the Great Migration, not write another textbook. In that she succeeded. I found her approach authentic and engaging.
I appreciate Wilkerson's point of view and the way she wrote the book. I appreciate that she followed the actual people and their trials and tribulations. The Great Migration was a great personal struggle coupled also with triumphs. I don't know a better way to get the Great Migration across to people, other than sharing the personal stories of the people that lived it.