The Warmth Of Other Suns Book Summary, by Isabel Wilkerson

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1-Page Summary of The Warmth Of Other Suns


The Great Migration was the most significant mass migration in American history. Over the span of around 60 years, six million Black men, women and children left their homes in the South to live in Northern cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Each had their own unique reasons for leaving. However, few regretted taking that leap because it allowed them to assert their freedom from Southern oppression.

Throughout history, Americans have moved around the country in search of better opportunities. The Gold Rush was one example of this. In the 1850s, 100,000 people from all over America came to California hoping to find mineral riches. However, this mass migration pales in comparison with the Great Migration that took place at about the same time.

From 1915 to 1970, millions of Black people moved from the American South to Northern cities. Why did they move? What was so powerful about moving away from home? How did these individual decisions change America forever?

The Great Migration was a period in the 20th century when African Americans left their homes in the south to move north and west. Three people who moved during this time are profiled here, with each story focusing on a different aspect of the migration. The first is Ida Mae Gladney, who left her sharecropping farm for Chicago in the 1930s. The second is George Starling, who escaped from Florida to New York City in 1940. Finally we have Robert Foster, whose focus on success led him to Los Angeles where he became a doctor.

In this passage, you’ll learn why the abolition of slavery didn’t mean freedom for all African Americans in Southern states, what prompted some to leave, and how their migration affected Northern cities.

Big Idea #1: There were many reasons why the Great Migration happened.

If you’re Black American, the chances are that your family history is linked to the Great Migration. From 1915 to 1970, an estimated six million Black men and women left their homes in the American South for a better life up North. This movement affected every single one of them and changed America’s landscape.

The main idea is that the migration had many causes and origins.

Though the Great Migration was the biggest and most significant mass migration in US history, it remains understudied and misrepresented. The reason for this is that it wasn’t a unified, single-purpose movement with an organized agenda.

Even though black southerners migrated to the north, they didn’t consider themselves part of a movement. They each had their own reasons for leaving. Some were tired of being second-class citizens and scared of being lynched; others were fleeing personal problems or lured by tales of money and freedom.

There was one dominant reason why Black people left the South: Jim Crow laws. After slavery was abolished, Southern states came up with all sorts of ways to keep Blacks from exercising their freedoms.

In the 1800s, a Black person in America was called “Jim Crow” after a minstrel show character. These laws prohibited Blacks from using the same facilities as Whites and reinforced sharecropping which kept Black farmers indebted to White plantation owners. They were also used to justify lynchings of Blacks by white mobs.

People from the south migrated north to escape their lives in the South and pursue a better life.

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The Great Migration also had a lot to do with World War I. Labor shortages in northern cities made recruiters go out and get cheap labor from the South, kicking off the migration. Once it started, it only got bigger during World War II.

In this passage, we’ll take a look at three people who migrated to the United States during different times. Ida Mae Brandon Gladley moved from Mississippi to Chicago in the early 1900s. George Swanson Starling moved from Florida to New York City in the 1920s and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his way from Louisiana to California in the 1940s.

Big Idea #2: Ida Mae and her family moved from their farm in Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee.

It was the summer of 1928 in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, and Ida Mae became a young woman. She had always been a tomboy but now at 16 she started noticing boys. Soon George came by to ask her hand in marriage on Sundays.

The key message here is that Ida Mae and her family left their Mississippi farm for better wages and safety. However, her mother was not happy about it. Her other children had already migrated North, so she needed help on the farm. George’s steadfastness eventually won over both mother and daughter, though, and in October 1929 they were married. Soon after they moved into a small house on a cotton plantation owned by Edd Pearson where they would tend to his fields all year round.

At the end of each year, sharecroppers were supposed to be given their share of the profit. However, in reality, they were often forced to pay for things that the owner had already provided them with. As a result, most left empty-handed at the end of each year. Ida Mae and George were lucky because Mr. Edd usually gave them some money at settlement time.

Although Ida Mae wasn’t good at picking cotton, the Great Depression made her labor worth less and less. She and her husband found it harder to support themselves and their two children.

Then, in 1937, things got harder for George and his family. His cousin was accused of stealing turkeys from a white man’s farm. A mob of white men found him and tied him to a hog before beating him severely with sticks. He survived the night but never recovered from his injuries. This led to George leaving South Carolina for Illinois where he had relatives who could help them out.

At first, Ida Mae didn’t want to leave her mother and sister behind. But George was determined to move the family out of Mississippi so they could have a better life. With that in mind, Ida Mae and George waited for their next settlement to raise money for them all to make the journey northward. And in 1937, they boarded an overcrowded train bound for Chicago on a Jim Crow car and began their new lives together as a family.

Big Idea #3: George Starling fled Florida because he was being persecuted for organizing workers.

George Starling grew up on a cotton and tobacco farm in Eustis, Florida. He wanted to go to college, which was very uncommon for African American children during the 1930s.

George was a good student. After graduating from an all-Black high school, he got accepted to the Agricultural and Mechanical State College in Tallahassee.

The main point of this passage is that George Starling was forced to leave school and return home because his father couldn’t afford the tuition. At first, he didn’t like it, but he decided to marry Inez anyway. Now he had a family to support and no other choice but to seek work in Florida’s citrus groves.

In addition, he took any odd job that came his way. His plan was to make enough money so that Inez could go to beauty school and then continue his own education as well. He worked at the Chrysler factory in Detroit for a few months during World War II.

When George returned from the war, he decided to work in the fields again. The working conditions had changed; for example, fruit pickers were paid a few cents per box of fruit they picked even though they climbed high into trees to do their job. George led his fellow workers on strike and demanded higher pay for their difficult labor. Labor shortages during World War II worked in favor of the strikers and forced plantation owners to meet their demands.

After multiple strikes on plantations, George started to gain a reputation as a troublemaker. His friends and family were especially concerned that one of the plantation owners would exact revenge. He decided it was time to leave Florida for good and go to New York, where he could send for Inez once he got settled.

Traveling through the South, George wanted to avoid attention so that he wouldn’t be suspected of being a runaway slave. He boarded the Silver Meteor train and traveled up north, where it was no longer segregated by race.

Big Idea #4: Pershing Foster moved to California in order to further his career without the restrictions of Jim Crow.

In the 1930s, Madison Foster was a teacher and principal of a local Black high school in Monroe, Louisiana. He made less than half of what his white peers did. Despite this, he and his wife were ambitious and had sent their oldest son to medical school. They also expected much from their younger son Pershing.

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The main point of this passage is that Pershing Foster moved to California to further his career, without the restrictions of Jim Crow laws.

Pershing was a good student, but he had to distinguish himself from his brilliant older brother. He developed an exuberant and outgoing charm that would later help him succeed in life.

Pershing was pressured by his family to go to Atlanta for college. He attended prestigious Morehouse College, where he excelled academically and won the heart of Alice Clement, the daughter of the president of Morehouse College.

Soon after they were married, Alice gave birth to two daughters. Because of his military duties, Pershing didn’t get to see much of his family for the next few years. He went on to Meharry Medical College and later reported for duty in Texas. After serving as a surgeon at an army base in Austria, he gained a reputation as a charming and brilliant young doctor.

When he returned to Louisiana after his service in the military, he realized how absurd it was that African Americans weren’t allowed to work as doctors at white hospitals.

He felt that it was time to leave and go to Los Angeles. The glamor of Hollywood would be a good fit for his boisterous personality, and in California he’d have the freedom to do as well as he wanted at work.

So, in 1953, Pershing drove to Los Angeles alone and only had one dollar left. He hoped that he could live the life he wanted here. To get rid of his Southern background, he changed his name from Robert Lee Foster to Robert Pershing Foster.

Big Idea #5: Ida Mae moved to Chicago and began working in the city’s factories.

When Ida Mae left the train station, she was amazed by how many people were in Chicago. She had never seen so many people at once before.

For now, Ida Mae and her family are headed to Milwaukee. They’re going there because of a message from her sister that she’ll help them out. The key takeaway is: in Chicago, Ida Mae became part of the urban working class. For a few months, they tried to get settled in Milwaukee but it was during the Great Depression so even if jobs were available for Blacks (which they usually weren’t) they wouldn’t have been able to find one anyway.

When Ida Mae returned to Mississippi for a few months, George decided to try his luck in Chicago. He found an entry-level job and rented a one bedroom basement apartment. Soon after, Ida Mae and the three children followed him to Chicago.

When the author was growing up, there were a lot of Black people moving into Chicago. Because of that, there wasn’t enough room for them in white neighborhoods; therefore they had to move around from one small apartment to another.

In addition, white working class immigrants and Northern-born Black people were not happy about the newcomers from the South. They worked in service jobs that they didn’t want to compete with new arrivals. Women had a particularly hard time finding jobs because they were perceived as uneducated and less suited than men for industrial work. Some of them sold their labor at slave markets on street corners where white women bid on them to do domestic tasks for low wages.

Finally, Ida Mae found a job as a hospital aide. Soon after, she and George moved into an apartment in Chicago’s West Side. They were able to enjoy their new urban lifestyle.

The couple didn’t seem to live much better than before. However, they did make some gains that were not tangible but important nonetheless. For example, in the 1940 presidential election between Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Republican challenger, Ida Mae voted for the first time in her life.

Big Idea #6: George witnessed the Great Migration in New York, where he worked as a train attendant.

Harlem, New York was a very different place from the small town where George Starling grew up. It was established as a refuge for former slaves in the nineteenth century and became an important cultural center by the time he arrived there in 1945.

Even though the apartments were small and living costs high, the street life in Harlem made George feel truly free. He lived with his aunt for a while before he got a job at the railroad. Soon, he found an apartment of his own in Harlem.

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The author’s main point is that George witnessed the Great Migration. The migration was a movement of thousands of African Americans from the South to New York City, where they worked as train attendants like George did. He saw people come and go multiple times every week for years, so he knew them well and helped them out with their bags and showed them to their seats. As an added bonus, he also acted as a counselor because some migrants were nervous about moving to New York City for the first time or worried about being discriminated against because of their race or ethnicity.

Inez moved to New York and got a job as a nurse. Inez and her husband, George, soon lived in an apartment with their two children in Harlem.

Though George had been reminded of his Southern roots since he started working on the railroad, it wasn’t until 1951 that he finally returned to Eustis. In December of that year, a friend who was an NAACP organizer and former classmate was killed by a bomb planted in his house.

George was deeply affected by the racism he saw in his childhood. He continued to fight against it throughout his life, even when it wasn’t popular or safe to do so. For example, during the civil rights movement, he donated money that he collected at work for various organizations and encouraged black passengers on trains to demand equal treatment.

Big Idea #7: In Los Angeles, Robert became a famous and reputable doctor.

Robert fell in love with Los Angeles. However, he had a lot of trouble finding his way and making enough money to bring his family there. He needed to find the right job that would pay him well enough to support his family after living comfortably for years in Atlanta’s villa.

The main idea in this passage is that Robert made a name for himself as a famous and reputable doctor. His first job was collecting urine samples, which he used to build his practice. He eventually rented an office space and invited his family to join him.

Robert and his wife moved from a small apartment to a big house in Los Angeles. They started hosting fancy dinner parties for their friends, but they didn’t have many common interests. Robert’s career was booming, and he could afford luxuries like a Cadillac and gambling. His reputation continued to grow because of his work with celebrities like Ray Charles.

But I haven’t seen my baby since she went away. If Dr. Foster has her, then I know that it’s over for me because he has medicine and money too. Ray Charles immortalized Robert’s story of success in his song “Hit the Road Jack”

Big Idea #8: For many Black Southerners, the North was not a carefree place.

Black people migrated from the south to the north in hopes of a better life. This meant they had to leave behind everything that was familiar and often even family members, friends, and spouses.

But like many other migrants, they believed that anything was better than where they started. Although life wasn’t easy for them in the North, it was still better than where they’d come from. The author is trying to say that although Northern cities were actively recruiting Black workers from the South during both World Wars and up until 1970, Blacks weren’t accepted with open arms upon their arrival.

The jobs they got in the city were slightly better paid than those back home, but equally exhausting. In addition, many cities couldn’t handle all the new arrivals. Most Southern migrants lived in stuffy, overpriced apartments and neighborhoods that were segregated from white workers.

Every migrant had a unique story of moving to Chicago, such as Ida Mae’s family. They moved there in the late 1960s and their property value dropped when white neighbors deserted the district. Soon after that, crime increased and drugs were prevalent in this neighborhood by the 1990s.

In New York, George struggled with the resentment he had towards the South and his impulsive marriage to Inez. They also faced problems in their family life due to Gerard’s bad influence and Robert’s gambling.

However, they never regretted their decision.

Big Idea #9: Many Black Southerners left the South because it represented oppression.

By the 1970s, nearly half of all black Americans lived in northern states. This was a huge jump from when they first started moving north during WWI. In Chicago alone, the population grew from 44,000 to over 1 million blacks.

Many people have argued that the Great Migration was a bad idea because there were higher levels of poverty in Northern cities. However, many African Americans felt that they were better off living in the North. These critics fail to take into consideration how much more meaningful it was for many Blacks to live freely and without fear in the North than it would have been for them to stay in the South.

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The main point here is that for many Black Southerners, leaving the South was an expression of freedom. Even though it wasn’t the promised land they had dreamed of, few regretted their decision to leave. For many, it was a powerful act of independence as American citizens – something which white Southerners rejected.

The author believes that in the end, it is worth all the hardships and challenges of life. People should have a sense of purpose and prosperity to help them overcome their hardships. Although they had many setbacks, Robert, George, and Ida Mae overcame them.

After his career was over, Robert moved to Los Angeles and died there in 1997. He never returned to the South, but he did leave behind two successful daughters.

George was able to make it in the South by avoiding trouble. He visited his homeland again later, but he always felt uneasy after returning. George died in 1998.

Ida Mae survived both of them, perhaps because she was the happiest of the three. She adjusted to her new home in Chicago and never forgot where she came from. Even though she lived in Chicago for over 60 years, Ida Mae spoke with a Southern accent until her death.

Three people, Robert Foster, George Starling and Ida Mae Gladney are famous for their actions in the American South. Over sixty years and two world wars, these three individuals’ decisions would transform America’s demographics and culture.

Full Summary of The Warmth Of Other Suns

Overall Summary

Published in 2010, The Warmth of Other Suns is a book about the Great Migration. It traces the history of racism in the South and explains why African-Americans migrated to Northern cities to find better opportunities.

In Summary

In The Warmth of Other Suns, author Isabel Wilkerson discusses the Great Migration by moving between the stories of three individuals: Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Pershing Foster. She explains their experiences with statistics and historical background to show how these black migrants were similar to Europeans who migrated to America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Migrants from both groups left for a better future. It’s no surprise that census data shows Black Americans who left had more education than those who stayed as well as higher employment numbers and fewer children born outside of marriage compared to Northern-born Blacks. This is because traditional migrant advantages work for everyone regardless of race or color.

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling and Robert Pershing Foster were all African-Americans who moved from the South to other parts of America. They sought freedom from the Jim Crow laws that oppressed them in their home states. The Warmth of Other Suns tells stories about these three people and hundreds more like them who left the American South for better lives in other parts of America.

The book does not romanticize the exodus of African-Americans. While it explores their struggles in the North, there were still many indirect ways that segregation affected them.

Wilkerson speaks to how the Great Migration was a continuous phenomenon that spanned six decades. She also mentions two issues often overlooked: first, that it consisted of three streams instead of one; second, those streams were determined by train routes available during each era.

In particular, Wilkerson’s accounts of Starling and Foster represent the contradictions of the Great Migration. Starling took a porter’s job on the same Silver Meteor train line that had once brought him north. He knew he was better off than when he lived in South Carolina, but at the same time, he felt like his life was stunted because it didn’t turn out as well as it could have been if he’d moved earlier. Meanwhile, Foster became one of Los Angeles’ best surgeons; however, his rejection of his Southern roots left him hurt and unable to enjoy living there.

The book The Warmth of Other Suns details a period in American history that had an important impact on the country. It affected millions of African-Americans and shaped modern-day America.

Part 1, Chapter 1: “Leaving”

The first chapter of The Warmth of Other Suns introduces the three main characters. It also hints at some reasons why they left the South for better opportunities in other places.

Part 1, Chapter 2: “The Great Migration, 1915-1970”

This book describes the Great Migration and its effects on Black families. This migration was a result of millions of decisions made by Blacks, and had an impact on every Black family in America. It wasn’t planned; it just happened over time because of various factors such as geography or social conditions that led to this movement.

The Great Migration was a major event in the history of the United States. It had a profound effect on modern American culture.

Part 2, Chapter 3: “Ida Mae Brandon Gladney”

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney was born in Mississippi and later moved to Chicago with her husband George. African-Americans living in the South during this time had to contend with segregation, which affected their lives greatly. It wasn’t just one thing; it was everything. Because of that, they learned things through experience and nuance rather than being taught explicitly. For example, after Gladney went to a blacksmith’s shop and got harassed for doing so by some white people, she discovered that there are good ones and bad ones like anything else, so she has to watch them closely in order to figure out the difference between them.

Part 2, Chapter 4: “The Stirrings of Discontent”

During the early period of the Great Migration, Ida Mae Brandon Gladney experienced a lot of social and societal chaos. White supremacist terrorism was rampant in the South after its defeat during the Civil War (1861-1865). Many prominent public figures openly embraced this kind of violence. For example, James K. Vardaman said that “if it is necessary” every black person will be lynched (39). Southern newspapers would alert readers to upcoming lynchings as well (39). The government quickly codified white supremacist ideology into Jim Crow laws used to segregate and disenfranchise African Americans (41).

Chapter 4 describes the oppression faced by African-Americans in the South as well as their bleak lives. It also discusses how these factors led many blacks to decide that it would be better to leave than stay and face this oppression.

Part 2, Chapter 5: “George Swanson Starling”

George Swanson Starling was born after Ida Mae and her family were sharecroppers. He saw how his parents’ generation suffered because of the unfair agreements that they had to make with their land owners.

The 1930s were a time of great racial inequality. Black people did not get fair pay, and they lived under the oppression of Jim Crow laws. These laws made it difficult for them to live normal lives in their homes states.

Despite this, Starling was a good student and finished college without failing any classes. However, his family’s financial situation forced him to drop out of college and marry quickly. This affected the rest of his life.

Part 2, Chapter 6: “Robert Joseph Pershing Foster”

Robert Joseph Pershing Foster was different from the other two central figures in that he came from a wealthy family. He had many benefits not afforded to most African-Americans living in the Jim Crow South, such as being able to go to school and become an educated person. He loved California, and it became his dream to move there one day.

Part 2, Chapter 7: “A Burdensome Labor”

In “The Warmth of Other Suns”, Isabel Wilkerson describes the lives of three African-Americans who left their homes and families to move North. She discusses how being Black in the South was a struggle, as they were constantly at the mercy of Whites. The sharecropping system limited their wealth, and Blacks had no control over where they could live or work. They did not make this decision lightly but rather as an inevitable result of years and years of being treated like second class citizens.

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney spent her teens and early adulthood working in the cotton fields. She was also courted by many men before she married George Gladney, who worked as a farmer. When they got married, Ida left work to raise their children and take care of the house, which likely wasn’t easy because there were constant shortages of goods and money during that time period for black households.

George Starling was born in 1881. He married a woman named Mary and they had two children together. Unfortunately, their marriage ended after only six years because George’s work as a writer made it difficult for him to provide for his family. In order to support himself, he took up work picking oranges in Florida during the winter months when there wasn’t much demand for writers in New York City. However, he felt alienated from his fellow workers because he was more educated than most of them and saw how unfairly they were being treated by the white owners of the orange groves where they worked. Slowly but surely, George became an advocate for fair treatment of these workers until one day people started calling him “the agitator.”

Robert Joseph Pershing Foster was born into a wealthy family, and he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta. The school wanted to make a name for itself by having the best students from prominent families attend it, and that’s why they accepted him. He married Alice Clement, who came from an influential family as well. This marriage set up lifelong competition between Foster and her father Rufus Clement, the President of Atlanta University.

Part 2, Chapters 8-9: “The Awakening” and “Breaking Away”

The three main characters in this book all faced a similar situation. Ida Mae Brandon Gladney’s cousin, Joe Lee, was accused of stealing turkeys from the white man who employed him and nearly beaten to death. This was the last straw for her husband, George Swanson Starling, as he had been looking for work elsewhere anyway. During World War II, after hearing rumors about labor shortages in Northern cities during the war, he moved to Detroit against his wife’s wishes. He experienced one of many race riots that were occurring at that time. Such events made it clear that although African-Americans escaped some persecution by leaving the South, they would still face racism and prejudice in Northern cities like Detroit. Because of fear resulting from these events, Starling returned to Florida orange picking where he organized a makeshift labor union among workers there. His activism led to reprisals which forced him out again; this time settling in Harlem, New York City.

Pershing Foster, who was now married with a daughter, became a surgeon in the Army during the Korean War. He believed he would finally use his medical training there but encountered an old friend from Mississippi and ended up staying in the South. Although limited to basic duties, he still managed to refine his skills as a doctor in Europe before returning to America. After that experience, he had two choices: stay in the South or move away on his own. Ultimately, he decided to leave for California and take chances alone rather than stay with family members.

Part 3, Chapter 10: “The Appointed Time of Their Coming”

Part 3 of the book tells about how the three main characters left the South. It also relates anecdotes of other Southern migrants, many of whom just sneaked away without notice to avoid angering their employers. Some African-Americans got a few dollars from their former employers and didn’t have to leave at all—this shows how much freedom they had in the South.

A large portion of African Americans left the South to escape racial discrimination. People feared for their safety if they stayed, so some decided to leave before anything bad happened.

For some people, like Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, leaving the South meant being able to start over and become someone else. When Foster arrived in California, he changed his name to Bob because it was modern and hip. He also bought a hat that made him look cool. People who left the South were able to be whoever they wanted to be.

Part 3, Chapter 11: “Crossing Over”

While some African-Americans thought that they would be free once they left the South, this was not always the case. For example, Robert Joseph Pershing Foster thought he’d be able to find a place to stay in California without any problems since it was no longer part of Jim Crow laws. However, when he tried staying at motels along his journey, he kept being turned away because of his race.

In addition to the racism, which was masked in the North, migrants also had to deal with a new culture and climate. They needed to figure out how to live again after being dominated by their previous environment for so long.

Part 4, Chapter 12: “Chicago”

In Chapter 12, Ida Mae Brandon Gladney describes her first impressions of Chicago. She was from Mississippi and had never seen a city before, so she thought it looked like heaven.

Part 4, Chapter 13: “New York”

Chapter 13 describes George Swanson Starling’s first impressions of Manhattan, where he hoped to live as a man without fear of getting lynched.

Part 4, Chapter 14: “Los Angeles”

Chapter 14 of the book briefly describes Robert Joseph Pershing Foster’s first impressions of California. He thought it was a place where people could start over and live their dreams, since there were many black pioneers in Los Angeles. It was disappointing to him that he had to travel so far from Oakland, but once he got there, he realized that his dreams were coming true.

Chapter 14: Briefly Describes Chapter 15: Talks about how Robert Joseph Pershing Foster felt when arriving in Los Angeles for the first time and why he decided to stay

Part 4, Chapter 15: “The Things They Left Behind”

Because life in the South was so different from life in the North, African-Americans brought their culture with them. They surrounded themselves with people who knew each other from back home. As often as possible, they wired money back home to support those left behind and show that success is possible.

Still, many wanted to go back because they felt that part of them had not left the South. They felt like they were forced out and if they were treated as well in the South as they are in the North, then maybe they wouldn’t have left.

Part 4, Chapter 16: “Transplanted in Alien Soil”

In Chapter 16, Wilkerson uses the experiences of three different people (a young man from Atlanta, a young woman from New Orleans and a middle-aged man from Montgomery) to show how migration changed the dynamics of Northern cities. Migration was mostly along railroads lines so Northern cities that were served by major train lines received more migrants than others. There was tension in some areas because neighborhoods didn’t want migrants living there but due to economics this soon began to change. For instance, in Harlem “the flood of colored migrants soon broke down the last of the racial levees” (250).

Migrants faced many challenges when they moved to California. Some were able to adapt without much trouble, such as Ida Mae Brandon Gladney and George Swanson Starling. However, Robert Joseph Pershing Foster had a hard time building his medical practice because there were other Black doctors in the area who could serve their needs just fine.

Part 4, Chapter 17: “Divisions”

Although many African-Americans believed that they would be able to live their lives fully once they left the South, history has often mischaracterized them. While it is true that “the greater the obstacles and the farther the distance traveled,” black migrants were more ambitious than other blacks (261). They are also of higher socioeconomic status than other blacks who stayed in the South (263).

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney came to Chicago during the Great Depression. Life was difficult, but she still appreciated it because she had her family with her. Her husband George left to find work in Milwaukee—an example of Wilkerson’s point about how hardworking and ambitious migrants were.

Finally, George Swanson Starling was able to bring his wife up North. He threw himself into life in Harlem and participated in end-of-the-month parties that allowed African Americans to raise money for their rent and have fun with other people of the community.

Robert Joseph Pershing Foster finally built his medical practice, and he sent for his wife and daughters to live with him in Los Angeles. Still trying to escape from the shadow of his father-in-law, Robert vowed to prove all the people who doubted him wrong by becoming more successful than anyone could have imagined.

Part 4, Chapter 18: “To Bend in Strange Winds”

Life in the North was different from life in the South. Many black southerners moved to northern cities and had to adjust their behavior so as not to seem too country or uneducated. Some Black newspapers even published articles on how best to fit into Northern culture, instructing people on proper etiquette for things like social gatherings and business meetings.

George Starling, a railroad porter, had a unique perspective on how people act differently when they’re in different environments. When the migrants stepped onto the train to go north, he noticed that they acted like northerners.

Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, who was finally able to settle down with his family, bought a Cadillac to show that he was doing well and thriving. Showcasing wealth during the Great Migration was important for migrants leaving sharecropping arrangements—employment that often paid poorly.

Part 4, Chapter 19: “The Other Side of the Jordan”

The three main characters in the book had different experiences in their lives. In the South, they were oppressed by slavery and could not do certain things without fear of reprisal from whites.

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney was inspired to vote when she saw a man registering to vote. She also worked at the polling booth during elections, so that other African-Americans could exercise their right to vote. However, back in Mississippi, no one dared talk about voting rights for African Americans.

As a porter on the railroad, George Starling saw firsthand how poor African-Americans would board trains in order to escape Jim Crow. They’d hold onto the outside of passenger cars or jump into boxcars and ride for free. This was called hoboing, and it became widespread during this time period.

In this essay, Wilkerson discusses the assassination of Florida NAACP organizer Harry T. Moore. Sheriff Willis McCall supposedly killed him by planting a bomb under his house and killing him in the explosion. This parallels George Starling’s story in that he was threatened with lynching if he chose to leave town instead of working for better conditions for African Americans on the railroad tracks, but Starling chose to leave anyway because it wasn’t worth risking his life over. The danger faced by organizers like Moore affected their arguments about whether or not they should stay and fight against racism or just leave town and try to find a safer community elsewhere.

Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, whose life has recently improved, is planning an epic party to celebrate his success and show off his wife and family. He’s now a successful doctor who treats even famous people like Ray Charles.

Part 4, Chapter 20: “Complications”

While the North had its benefits, it also had drawbacks. Many Northern Blacks were poor and didn’t have much money to spare. They often housed family members who relocated up North with them: “It was only a matter of time before just about every Black person in the North had visitors.”

George Starling was working as a porter on the train when he had to deal with white passengers. They thought they were better than him because of his race, and treated him poorly. He fought back by resisting their orders and getting one conductor in trouble for mistreating him. However, this incident forced Starling to change his job so that he wouldn’t have any more problems with whites.

After treating Ray Charles’s wrist injury, Robert Joseph Pershing Foster went on tour with the famous pianist. He saw a lot of things that changed his life forever. Later, he delivered one of Ray Charles’s children and named her after him.

Part 4, Chapter 21: “The River Keeps Running”

Wilkerson discusses the lengths to which some African Americans went to leave the South, including a man who hid in a coffin and was taken north. He also mentions that children of migrants had problems adjusting to their new lives because they were born into freedom but still faced discrimination.

In gratitude for all the help he has given him, Ray Charles wrote a song for Robert Joseph Pershing Foster that was well received and helped bring more people to his medical practice.

Part 4, Chapter 22: “The Prodigals”

When Southerners visited the North, they tried to act like Northerners. However, when their children returned home from the North after being educated there, they did not have deference for whites as much as their cousins did.

The American South had a different culture from the North, which led to an event in American racial history that was horrifying. A young man named Emmett Till went on vacation and was lynched because he allegedly whistled at a white woman. The murder caused outrage in the North and helped garner support for the Civil Rights Movement.

Part 4, Chapter 23: “Disillusionment”

African-American families in the North faced segregation and racism when they tried to move into white neighborhoods. When the Clarks, a well-educated African-American family, attempted to move into an all white neighborhood in Cicero, Illinois, it sparked a riot that was later sanctioned by officials who blamed those who rented them their apartment. This officially sanctioned segregation of neighborhoods along racial lines was common practice in the North that still predominate today. For example while blacks would make up more than eighty percent of Detroit’s population just across the Ford Expressway is Dearborn where only one percent of its population is black. Such issues were much harder to confront and fight against because they weren’t as overt as those facing organizers in the South which made them go overlooked by national audiences.

Part 4, Chapter 24: “Revolutions”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of the civil rights movement, was fighting for equal rights and trying to eradicate discrimination in America. He encountered a paradox when he moved north because people were against discrimination in general but didn’t practice it in their own personal lives. In Chicago, he met with some of his most virulent opposition yet, saying “I have never seen anything so hostile and hateful.”

George Starling tried to make sure that African-Americans traveling on the train were treated fairly. He did this by telling them they didn’t need to give up their seats once the train passed over a certain line. However, he was afraid of getting in trouble for giving people unsolicited advice.

The three subjects of Wilkerson’s work dealt with the changing times in different ways. Ida Mae Brandon Gladney spoke of “white flight” in Chicago: “one by one, they sold their house and moved away.” The Gladneys’ young daughter became pregnant while visiting family back home.

Robert Joseph Pershing Foster felt that his wife and daughter were growing distant from him. Despite this, he still worked constantly to appear successful. In 1967, his father-in-law died and the relationship with his mother-in-law grew worse.

Part 4, Chapter 25: “The Fullness of Their Migration”

Wilkerson looks at the Great Migration’s effects on African Americans, whites in the North, and other communities. She points out that many people tend to focus too much on whether or not it was successful. It is important to remember the successes of everyday people who took part in it such as Ida Mae because they are often overlooked by historians and social scientists alike.

The author compares the experience of European immigrants to blacks who migrated from the south during that time period. The North was not as welcoming to blacks, which explains why Ida Mae and George’s children did not do as well. Other immigrant groups benefited from having black people in their communities because they distracted anti-immigrant feelings away from them.

Wilkerson sets up the story of black struggle in Los Angeles with a description of Robert Joseph Pershing Foster’s party. The newspaper that covered Black socialites wrote an article about his famous success and his party. However, even this recognition was not enough—as one guest remarked, he always sought approval and never felt secure. This insecurity is representative of African-Americans living outside the South: No matter what heights they reach, they worry that it can be taken away from them at any time.

Part 5, Chapter 26: “In the Places They Left”

Even after the legislation that ended segregation, it was hard for southern states to integrate their schools and services. Wilkerson argues that Sheriff Willis McCall of Lake County, Florida, was not an isolated figure but emblematic of many local sheriffs who used their power to keep African-Americans in “their place” by bending the law. The fact that he won election after election despite his consistent harassment of Black people shows how pervasive Jim Crow laws were accepted as a way of life at the time.

Many migrants left their homes to move to the North. For George Swanson Starling, moving back home was a victory against impossible odds. However, Robert Joseph Pershing Foster always wanted to distance himself from Louisiana by not being associated with it in any way.

Part 5, Chapter 27: “Losses”

Chapter 27 is a snapshot of the lives of three people who moved to Baltimore after growing up in rural Virginia. They had to adjust to their new surroundings, particularly when it came time for them to raise families and deal with loss.

Part 5, Chapter 28: “More North and West than South”

The three main people in the book were Southern. They had to deal with racism and eventually moved to Chicago. Nonetheless, they felt like a change of scenery was needed because of the increasing violence in their hometowns. When they lived there for long enough, they witnessed how different Northern cities were (drug and gang problems) but yet still familiar since many black neighborhoods could be found everywhere that blacks migrated to during segregation times. Ida Mae Gladney and George Starling held celebrity status in their new community because neighbors looked out for them as if it was something from back home where everyone knew each other’s business—something that wasn’t common where gangs would kill others indiscriminately without knowing who lived there or who didn’t even belong at all.

Part 5, Chapter 29: “Redemption”

The author describes accompanying her subjects to various locations.

When Wilkerson met Gladney for the first time, she was shocked at how old and poor Gladney lived. She had a lot of problems that made it hard to live in her home.

George Swanson Starling, a deacon now, felt it was his responsibility to share his wisdom with younger generations. He did not cut ties with Florida the way that the other subjects in Wilkerson’s narrative did: “George comes back to Eustis every two years for the biennial reunion of Curtwright Colored High School.”

Robert Joseph Pershing Foster was a gracious host. He had many friends and former patients who were skeptical of the advice given to them by their doctors, but they still called him for medical advice.

Part 5, Chapter 30: “And Perhaps, to Bloom”

Chapter 30 is about the daily lives of three people. Ida Mae Brandon Gladney had strong family bonds that helped her through life. In contrast, Robert Joseph Pershing Foster slowly became more isolated as he aged.

Part 5, Chapter 31: “The Winter of Their Lives”

Wilkerson talks about the deaths of George Swanson Starling and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, two men who had difficult lives but were able to overcome them. After their deaths, they are remembered as noble figures in their communities and become a part of American history.

Part 5, Chapter 32: “The Emancipation of Ida Mae”

The final chapter of ”The Warmth of Other Suns” focuses on Ida Mae Brandon Gladney. She was born in Mississippi and lived into the 21st century, having seen many changes since her childhood. Wilkerson accompanied Gladney to Mississippi where she met with old and new relatives. Once, she spontaneously leapt from the car to run into a cotton field to pick cotton because as an adult, she had learned that this was possible for her now.

The author ends by hoping that the struggles of migrants would allow their descendants to live more freely. The author wants us to understand how important each individual is to history.


The Great Migration was influential to African-American communities and the United States as a whole. It had an impact on all parts of American life, including politics and popular culture.

The migration was important psychologically because it meant exercising freedoms once denied to the African-American community. They had decided to be free and acted on that decision, wherever that journey led them.

The Warmth Of Other Suns Book Summary, by Isabel Wilkerson

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