Honoring Black History Series: As a part of our commitment to honor black history, Access team members will be sharing about businesses, books, literature, stories, podcasts, films, songs, or pieces of art created by black authors, leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists that have impacted us.
Christina Swiney, Co-Executive Director shares reflections on The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration written by Isabel Wilkerson.
The Warmth of Other Suns is a spectacularly written narrative of individuals and families who traveled west and north to escape the Jim Crow south, and found a more nuanced, big brother “James Crow” in the cities and towns they passed through or landed.
As a white person growing up in West Michigan, I absorbed the understanding that the north “saved” people from slavery by participating in the underground railroad and winning the civil war. Further, I had a sense of distance from the corporate, historical sin of slavery because I came from a Dutch family that crossed the Atlantic as immigrants in 1912, far after the emancipation proclamation. I learned that Jim Crow was in the south, was horrible, and thankfully ended with the civil rights movement. Somehow, I absorbed that this was all distant history. I never learned that there was such a thing as the great migration, much less that it impacted the trajectory of nearly every American city, including our own.
Through studying social work in college and the 20 year journey of my life since then, I have learned how inaccurate these assumed truths are, and I continue to seek out sources to learn a more accurate history. Reading The Warmth of Other Suns was like sitting at the feet of an uncle or aunt, part story-telling and part historical teaching all wrapped up in one.
Two things that stuck with me:
- Though the migration spanned decades and included nearly 6 million people, it didn’t show up in any of my history books. This book articulates key attitudes, practices, and policies that served to disadvantage black people.
- The tenacity and determination with which those migrating north and west held on to the dream of something better for their families, despite exploitation and dis-welcome in the cities they moved to.
If you can see yourself in some of the assumptions I grew up with, if you are at a point in which you are ready to learn more about the racialized history of our country, and look thoughtfully making necessary change, I recommend this book.