Thank you for your willingness to participate in a book chat on The Warmth of Other Suns.  As some of you know (a migrant myself) I have come to call Eustis, Florida home--the home of George Starling.  I was fortunate enough to hear the author, Isabel Wilkerson, speak last spring and fell in love with her style of weaving in a dark era of American History with personal narratives that really touch the inner soul.  In many ways she shares the stories of both the average Joe and the great American hero.


Hate him or love him this book was on the president's summer reading list while he vacationed in Martha's Vineyard last year.  The message of this book is an important one and I hope that you will have new insights on The Great Migration to share with your students.  Lastly,  my wish is that you will enjoy this read as much I did.   Invite your friends!  I look forward to reading your posts.

                                                                       --Shauna (mslivflvs)

First Posting: by 2/19 (Part I)--scroll down for questions

Second Posting: by 3/4  (Part II)

Third Posting:  by 3/18 (Part III)

Forth Posting: by 4/8 (Part IV)

Fifth Posting:  by 4/29 (Part V and Epilogue)

Part I: Reflection Question

1. The term ‘The Great Migration’ has been given by historians to one of the greatest voluntary migrations of all time. However, most who participated in this so called silent pilgrimage never saw their personal decision to leave the American South as anything more than just that—a personal decision. Is the term Great Migration an appropriate one? Why or why not? When did you first learn about The Great Migration?
(p. 12)

2. Quote – What is something that sparked your interest, you didn’t understand, something that you identified with or one thing that summed up the section for you?

3. Question – What are you curious about after reading this section?

4. Classroom Connection–How might you connect something that you have read about to your students in the classroom?

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Replies to This Discussion

Frankly, I had never heard the term "Great Migration" before reading The Warmth of Other Suns. Although I read it at least a year ago, I look forward to this discussion and hope that it will bring back to me the many stories of the migration experience. I grew up in rural Iowa, where I did not meet an African American until I went to a state university! Hard as that is to believe, it makes me feel even more grateful to Isabel Wilkerson for providing me a glimpse into the real stories of real people who were, like my own Iowa farmer father, trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.   

Mary, I grew up in a small town similar to yours, but in Massachusetts. What was striking to me when I moved to Florida, and still surprising actually, is how that small community still divided itself, just along different lines. All the churches but one were Catholic, yet depending on your ancestry you went to the Polish church, French church, or Irish church. Throughout time and place, people will unconsciously and consciously segregate themselves to form subcommunities. It makes stories like the Great Migration that much more fascinating, because people are leaving the geography-based communities to which they had been a part, and to think of the intense motivation that has to have been there... (as a side note, I think data will bear out a mini-migration of the 1990s and early 2000s from the Northeast and Midwest, largely to the South and hope to one day study it). In American history at the K-12 level I don't think we do justice to the African American experience from about the mid-1920s to the mid-1950s.

Until beginning this book I had never heard of the "Great Migration."  I am interested in learning more about the topic to determine whether or not this is an appropriate term.  I love that the author chose different people to write about.  The different perspectives are much more interesting than just one, allowing for much compare/contrast.  What I am most curious about is whether or not the lives of these individuals improved living in the north or was it just as bad, but in a different way.  Did they feel it was an improvement.  As far as connecting with students I would have them compare/contrast what it was like for them moving to a new state, city or even changing schools.

It truly is one of those great themes across time. I love how the author connected the Great Migration to many other famous migrations in history.

I am struck by the lyrical qualities of her writing.  I read yesterday the part where she refers to where the phrase "warmth of other suns" came from p. 123 (Hubble's discovery of a galaxy far far away) and was so impressed by the connection I read it over and over again.

1. I too had never really heard the term The Great Migration until college. Interestingly enough I had a best friend growing up (she is still my best friend) who has Caucasian mom and from South Carolina and an African-American dad from Louisiana. Both had come to Boston to complete their graduate studies in the late 60s, became quite successful professionals and never returned to the South. I guess that makes by best friend a byproduct of the Great Migration. She was my friend and I never really thought anything more of it aside from the fact that to me they ate foreign foods like gumbo, boudin, dirty rice and other Southern delights that I never found quite so delightful as a kid.

I haven't come up with a better term to phrase this migration so I would have to say that it is somewhat appropriate. I don't think that at first glance you really get a big picture of the who, what, when, where or why. It might be an interesting assignment for students to come up with an alternative name for this great movement of people and justify what they chose. Additionally, students could develop a book jacket for a work on The Great Migration. It would be interesting to see the images that they chose and why they chose them. Certainly, it is important to teach this event/movement to students not just in February but at other times of the year as a thread that we weave into the fabric that we call our course.

2. "Historians would come to call it the Great Migration.  it would become perhaps the biggest underreported story of the twentieth century.  it was vast.  It was leaderless.  It crept along so many thousands of currents over so long a stretch of time as to be difficult for the press truly to capture while it was under way." p. 9

(Hence, my initial question for this part of the book.)

3. I am curious why this topic has been gaining attention of late.

4. (Taken from above) 

It might be an interesting assignment for students to come up with an alternative name for this great movement of people and justify what they chose. Additionally, students could develop a book jacket for a work on The Great Migration. It would be interesting to see the images that they chose and why they chose them.  I think that this activity would be most fitting for middle school.  Certainly, it is important to teach this event/movement to students not just in February but at other times of the year as a thread that we weave into the fabric that we call our course.

I'm going to deviate from the questions you've posed Shauna, to say that while I've only read the first 10% of the book (according to the counter on my iPad Kindle app), I can already tell that this is an absolutely stellar work of historical research and writing. I have been completely blown away by Wilkerson's ability to write prose that conveys the depth of experiences of her subjects while also bringing to life the reality of the milieu in which they lived. Her portrait of how the Southern Caste System warped all who lived within it is haunting, griping and unforgettable. Thank you so much Shauna for taking the initiative to begin this book chat.

Prior to the publication of this book a year or two ago, I had a very vague knowledge of the Migration, but probably would not have called it that. Clearly the term is apt given the scope of the move. It reflects the value that can come from a close study of statistics in history. They show us aspects of the past that can never be seen through anecdotes alone.

I agree--far more interesting to read than the grad history studies I've been assigned!

I've highlighted so many passages in the first section of this book, that it is almost embarrassing. Wilkerson's description of the torture and lynching of Claude Neal, and the reactions of people in power to it is searing, brutal and infuriating. However, I think the passage that has caused me to think most so far has been this:

"breaking from protocol could get people like George killed. Under Jim Crow, only white people could sit in judgment of a colored person on trial. White hearsay had more weight than a colored eyewitness. Colored people had to put on a show of cheerful subservience and unquestioning obedience in the presence of white people or face the consequences of being out of line. If children didn’t learn their place, they could get on the wrong side of a white person, and the parents could do nothing to save them."

It made me wonder about how we teach people their places in society today. Perhaps we could ask of students, "What is your place as an individual in our society right now? How do you know it, and how did you come to learn it?"

I am intrigued by your suggested questions at the end of your reply. I'm trying to imagine how students would respond. In my former school district, I wonder how the many military kids would respond. Shauna or Jennifer, are you in daily contact with kids to try this experiment and share the results?

Definitely, if anyone wants to pose these questions to their students, then report the responses they got, I'll be eager to read them. Thanks for the suggestion, Mary.

Yes, these questions would be great for any class but I am thinking that a sociology class could eat those questions up Bill!  Unfortunately, I am not directly working with students at present.  I would love to have that discussion so I will certainly suggest it to my friends who are currently teaching.  I love those macro type questions are transcend throughout history.  Bill knows this but I just returned from a TAH Grant field study on The Gilded Age.  Those questions would also be great to pose for that time period--robber barons, immigrants, women, African-Americans...the list goes on.  Great discussion--I can't wait to read future posts.


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