My Experience with "the Warmth of Other Suns"

At UNI we host a common read text for our incoming freshmen who participate in a class titled “Cornerstone”. This class, taken both fall and spring semesters, fulfills the requirement for College Reading & Writing, as well as Oral Communication. The students’ assignments are based on the material they are reading, and the assignments vary from journal entries to multimedia presentations. This year the students are reading “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson.

This book was selected in conjunction with another program our university hosts titled “Reaching for Higher Ground”. It is a university-wide diversity initiative, where a topic is selected to enrich our campus community that involves programming from various departments and colleges on campus for the entire academic year. Previous topics have included GLBT issues, and community building after September 11th. This year’s topic is “The search for an American Dream”. The book the freshmen students are reading tells the true story behind 3 African Americans from the South, who are in search of their Promised Land in the North. It takes place in 3 different decades (30s, 40s, and 50s) in order to demonstrate the span of the Great Migration. The characters, Ida Mae, George, and Robert, come from different backgrounds but share a common dream: to find a better way of life.

This semester, my department hosted a book club discussion in the community about “The Warmth of Other Suns”. I served as a facilitator with two of my colleagues from other academic areas, and our sessions were hosted on campus for staff, faculty, and community members. Our group was quite small, but our discussions were honest, open, and eye-opening. This book left a huge impact on me. There are stories here that I never learned in high school. They teach about slavery, abolition, the Civil Rights Movement, and now about Obama. However, there are so many untold stories when it comes to the African American experience in the United States that we are never made aware of. This book brings those stories to life. In addition, Isabel Wilkerson also interjects other historical facts and occurrences in the story to bring more perspective of the injustices and violence that happened during the time. One of the historical pieces that stays in my mind was the fact that the state of Florida was one of the most violent states in the South, in terms of hate crimes against African Americans (post Abolition of slavery). The imagery is vivid when lynchings and torture episodes were described. However, this is no fiction story; this is not added for emphasis….these crimes actually happened! It is gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. You can’t just re-write history. This is why I love this book.

I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by the author during the first week of classes this fall semester. Isabel Wilkerson spent 15 years preparing to write this book. She interviewed over 1,000 people and traveled all around the country to get these stories. In addition to the 3 main individuals in the book, Isabel also interviewed their family members and friends. She put into perspective for our freshmen students that the decision for our characters to leave their families at a young age was difficult. For all the persons who made the journey to the North, not knowing if you’d see your family ever again is a serious life changing experience. Some individuals’ dreams became reality, while others become disappointed. All these accounts are intertwined beautifully in the book. Once you get to the end, you feel like you know Ida Mae, George, and Robert because you’ve accompanied them on the journey from the beginning of their life until their elder years.

If you have an opportunity over Winter Break to widen your book collection “The Warmth of Other Suns” is definitely a great choice. Take your time reading it. Absorb as much as you can. It will change how you view American history and politics. And if anything, I hope it gets you to start thinking of your American Dream and what it entails. I also hope that it helps you understand immigration issues a little better, as well as migration and how engrained stereotypes and oppression are in our society today.

Tabatha Cruz

Student Affairs - the First Years

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