Home » Book Club » “The Warmth of Other Suns”

“The Warmth of Other Suns”

I loved this book!

How’s that for an unbiased review?  As soon as I finished it, I sent TIH a message letting her know how much I loved it and thanking her for suggesting it.

I will say that it was quite lengthy, but it was a quick read for me – I started on a Thursday and was done that Sunday.  I could’ve done without some of the demographics and data that were presented, but I realize that this book was a scholarly undertaking, and certainly don’t knock the tone it occasionally adopted.

While I was reading this book I, of course, thought of my own family and their migration experiences.  My Mom followed her older sister and moved from Arkansas to California.  Most of their cousins followed suit – those that didn’t end up in California headed to places like Chicago and Milwaukee.  My Dad was born in raised in Cali, but his parents migrated from Texas.  I’m almost certain that most of you could tell similar tales about your family’s origins.

I was surprised that the people featured were not as happy in their overall lives as I expected them to be once they left the harsh South behind.  But I guess the old saying holds true “wherever you go, there you are.”

I bookmarked a few things that I found remarkable – did any of these strike you as well?

“Still it made no sense to Pershing that one set of people could be in a cage, and the people outside couldn’t see the bars.”  This was when the store owner in Monroe was questioning why Pershing didn’t just stay in Monroe and practice surgery at the hospital in town – the man never realized that doctors of color were not allowed to practice there.  I think this particular quote speaks volumes about issues of injustice everywhere.

“In South Carolina, colored people had to apply for a permit to do any work other than agriculture after Reconstruction.  It would not likely have been their choice had there been an alternative.”  Who knew?  I will never understand how some people claim racism is not an institution in this country.

Do you remember the passage about  Arrington High from Mississippi – the man that was declared insane for speaking out against segregation and ended up in an sylum (Whitfield, which still operates as the State’s psychiatric hospital)?  Mr. High is the one who was snuck out of the asylum, placed in a casket and shipped as a dead body from Mississippi to Chicago.

I almost cried when I read the following passage about George Starling, “”…by an accident of birth, he had managed to suffer the terror and injustice of Jim Crow but just missed the revolution that opened up the best in education and unheard of career opportunities for black peopl with the passage of the civil rights laws of the 1960s. The revolution had come too late for him.”

I guess I’ll stop here and open up the “room” for discussion.  What did you think of the book?  Were there any stories that particularly stuck you?  Do you plan on asking any of your relatives about their journeys East, West, or North?  (I certainly plan on asking my Grandma how she, my great aunts, and my Grandpa ended up in CA).

This is a picture of the home on St. Andrews of Dr. and Mrs. Beck. Dr. Beck was the medical school professor that Pershing went to see when he first arrived in L.A. and who helped him get his start. Thanks much to my Mom for the picture. We plan on going by Pershing's L.A. home next time I'm in CA.

Alright – discuss away.  I’m anxious to hear what you all thought about the book and the people whose stories were told.

23 thoughts on ““The Warmth of Other Suns”

  1. I enjoyed this book a great deal. It was the perfect mix of nerdy data and narratives to me.

    I learned so many new facts about the oppression that blacks experienced in the South and I think reading it framed in the three characters lives brought it home for me. It’s naive but I was surprised to read about the racism and injustice that the migrants faced when they got North or West. In reading, although they seemed sure that they’d made the right choices, I wasn’t always sure that they had.

    I wanted them to find joy and salvation in the North and it didn’t seem like any of the three really did. Ida Mae’s was the happiest story but even she mostly went along with whatever fate had in store for her. I think the other two characters were trying to effect change and so, were ultimately, more disappointed.

    I loved hearing about Ray Charles and Dr. Foster. I still wanted to call him Pershing even after he dropped it. Much more interesting name than Robert. 🙂

    It made me curious about stories of Great Migration in my own family. My grandfather is my closest living relative that was a part of the Great Migration. He doesn’t talk about it much so I asked him. He left Mississippi in the early 50s for Cleveland, under threat of violence – something to do with his brother and a white woman. His sister was already in Cleveland and was able to get him a job. He came up on a curtain-segregated bus. It seriously could have been one of the stories in the book.

    • I too was surprised at the racism they faced – particularly in the West. My father was born and raised in Cali and he swears up and down there was no racism. I now realize, that there probably wasn’t – in his insulated world – but had he stepped beyond the few blocks he navigated as a child I believe his opinion would be different.

      I kept waiting for the “warmth,” but I’m not sure any of them ever really experienced much or for a prolonged period of time. Pershing just seemed like a pretty tormented fellow all the way around. Black with a Napoleonic complex and a need to impress – just bad business.

      Family legend has it that my Mom’s family left Mississippi (for Arkansas) because someone stole a chicken!!!

      • I asked my grandmother about racism in Cleveland, where she was born and raised, and got about the same response as you did from your dad. Her parents (my great-grands) had gone to school in the South and so I think they really tried to insulate their children from racism – by not letting them go to certain stores, not encouraging integration, etc.

  2. I’m working on some pretty heavy stuff in my current film so it was pretty difficult for me to go from racism to more racism reading this book so it’s been very slow going for me. Most of my family who left Mississippi during the Great Migration went up the river– Columbus, OH and Detroit. A few went to Chicago. They all wanted to escape the culture of your only option is to pick cotton or process timber. I don’t know anything about people on my dad’s side who may have left NC during the great migration. Hmmm… census here I come. A good census resource is archive.org. If you know the county where your family originated and several last names, it can be very rewarding, but it takes a while.

    • Thanks for that information. I always say that I’m going to do some genealogy work “one of these days” – I guess the time is now. I definitely plan on interviewing my Grandma next time I see her.

      I hope you’re able to finish the book sooner or later. I didn’t think it was too, too heavy, but considering your film’s subject, I totally understand!

  3. This was an insightful and informative work for me. I am so glad I read it to the end. The wrap up of Ida Mae, George and Robert’s lives was as necessary as the foundation laid with statistics, numbers and history. Now I know the dates for the Great Migration — 1915 ‘til 1975. I was surprised to find that I was a part of the last decade of the Migration. I came to California in 1967 and like so many in the book, I lived with my sister. We were together because of our great love for each other. My brother was to join us in California later but he met with an untimely and a way too early death. My parents were not against my coming to California nor were they embracing the idea without trepidation. They were concerned that I would not have the needed supervision, aka strong hand of strictness.

    I have been here long enough to consider Cali my home. But as I stated in my profile when I say home, I really mean Arkansas. It will always be my home. My early training, the traditions that shaped me, life-long friends and my family roots are in Arkansas. I can’t deny. I don’t even want to. I am very proud of my southern roots. However, I have NO intentions of moving back there!

    I appreciated the meticulous data collection that was woven through the stories of Ida Mae, George and Robert. Yes, he changed his name to rid himself of all things Louisiana but he shed part of his very soul in the process.

    George always looked forward without enjoying the present. He missed a lot of the joys that could have enriched his life in Harlem. (I’ve always thought I wanted to live in Harlem). His focus was on self-defined success and making a better life for his family. He just never took in the newness of his life.

    Robert thought that Los Angeles was an under-advertised heaven. He wanted to make sure he had all that this city had to offer. But, in the end, he too sold his soul for less than what it was worth. He did not enjoy the happiness of family and friends. He thought that a showy presence would be his salvation. In the end it was not.

    I think this book should be a must-read for all colored, negro, Negro, Black, and African-American peoples of the world. It is an in-depth and revealing accounting of individual strengths, institutional racism, family values, generational bigotry, dreams (deferred, realized and lost), professional and monetary successes, unrealistic approaches to life’s challenges and in the end self-discovery.

    I definitely would recommend all 591 pages (on my ereader) to everyone.

  4. I didn’t really think Pershing had much of a soul to sell – I felt as though he’d be my “least favorite” person in real life.

    I would ask you if you felt as though leaving AR was the right thing to do, but I’m pretty sure your reply would be “YES!”

    Do you think your parents ever entertained the idea of leaving?

  5. Robert sold his soul to “the dream”. The dream of equality, justice, respect but he found that no matter how hard you try, frequently acceptance or rejection is based on color. He had degrees, prominence, a flashy lifestyle. But he was colored with the paint brush of prejudice and ignorance that was held by those less fortuante than himself.

    Leaving Arkansas made the world accessible in ways that I would have never known if I had stayed. I am so, so, soooooooooo glad I landed in California!

    Two of my father’s sisters went north–Gary, IN and Chicago. Two cousins went to Chicago. We only went to see them for funerals. They would come back “home” to see us every year or so. So there were reports of life in another world.

    My parents never considered moving north. But my mother really wanted to move to Los Angeles. She had friends who had come here and gotten teaching jobs with “good” pay. My mother had always said she would move out here in a heartbeat. But my father always said not yet. So after he died my sister and I just knew she would be here soon. But she only came for long term (up to 10 years at a time) visits. So we kinda had the best of both worlds: her “visiting” and reasons to go “home”.

  6. Pingback: The Warmth of Other Suns « Mama Sez

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  8. Sounds like an interesting book. It will be nice vacation reading. I love this type of material. I love the stories of how my family came to settle in California. My paternal grandmother’s grandfather was a slave in Georgia and a Union Army veteran. He moved to and eventually died in Vallejo, California. His story is recorded because he applied for military benefits and had to sign an affidavit.

    My maternal grandmother was born in Oklahoma. Her stories weren’t as horrific as my paternal grandmother but they were both happy their parents moved to California.

      • I hope you enjoy the read – I really did enjoy the way way the author told the stories that she did. The book helped reawaken my desire to dig through my family history.

        Your California roots run deep! Which is something I don’t think I’ve run across that often.

  9. Although I enjoyed the book, there were parts of this that made me very sad. My Granddad was born in 1909 in Louisiana. He and his 4 brothers left La. in the middle of the night because of trouble with the some white family. One brother wouldn’t answer to the “N” word and got into a verbal altercation with a white boy and I think a fight broke out and my great uncle almost killed the boy or probably just beat him pretty bad. As I was reading all I could think about was how horrible it must have been for them to live in fear like that. The 5 brothers had to leave their parents and young sister behind. All I could think about was how horrible it must have been for Black folks. Four of them went to Ohio, 2 made their way to Philadelphia. It’s almost like this book was telling their story too!

    I enjoyed the character development and felt like I connected with them from their point of view. Ida Mae, she is the one who reminds me of my Maternal Grandmother. A practical woman who played the hand she was dealt in life. George got the most sympathy from me. He just seemed to always come up a little short. An intelligent man who wasn’t allowed to be intelligent. That quote “”…by an accident of birth, he had managed to suffer the terror and injustice of Jim Crow but just missed the revolution that opened up the best in education and unheard of career opportunities for black people with the passage of the civil rights laws of the 1960s. The revolution had come too late for him.” struck me too! He seemed always just a little too late..
    Now Dr. Foster…in the latter part of the book I was not feeling him at all. I never had to live through what he had to endure, but it didn’t seem to change him for the better. His obsessions with his wife’s clothing was just bazaar !
    I have about 75 more pages before I’m finished. I just wanted to get in before the discussion ends.
    And just to add another thought. I know someone else already said it, but their stories didn’t turn out to be as happy as I thought they were going to. All of my Grandparents were from the South and all came North during the early 20’s and 30’. Maybe I just thought that my Grandparents had such a nice life up North. They never really talked about their struggles after leaving the South.

    • I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this book as much as I did was because I did feel like in many ways my story was being told through their lives.

      I felt so, so sorry for George – the man could not catch a break. Even though I knew his story had already been written, I found myself praying for a happy ending for him.

      Pershing irritated me too. I wish my husband would wake me up in the middle of the night to model and sashay around in some clothes. #crazyashell

      Glad you chimed in and hope you enjoy the wrap up!

      • Yesterday I spent my lunch hour +++ at the National Archives. It’s only a short walk from work. I’ve had a a family chronological listing of my Father’s -Father’s-Father’s-Father’s family for years now. Thanks to this book I’m finally going to do a little family history project. Can’t waste the National Archives being in my eyesight everyday. I always like working in DC, and sometimes I just down right LOVE IT!

  10. @OFP – That is awesome. I’ve always thought if I ever moved to the “big city” it would be the DC area – such a wealth of resources, culture, and activities. Color me slightly jealous!

  11. If you work at a college/university or are in college, your university should have access to Heritage Quest Online. It has US Census data (and other data) from 1790 until 1930. I found some of my ancestors on my father’s side as well. Wheeeee! Extra exciting!

  12. I haven’t read this, but I’m going to put it on the top of my “To Read” list. I’m also going to recommend it to my sister, who is our family historian. She’s picked up where my father left off, and the both of them have unearthed so much information about our lineage. I find it all fascinating, especially when I read of others in the African Diaspora.

  13. Hello, Nerd Girl! It’s been awhile. How are you? I just purchased this book because I had heard so many great things about it. I can’t wait to read it. I have so much catching up to do, but I would love to be apart of your book club.

    • Hey! How have you been? Believe it or not I was thinking about some of my “old” blog buddies the other day and I wondered how you were doing. All is well in my part of the world and I hope you can say the same.

      Join us! Always looking for suggestions – open to pretty much any genre.

      Take care. Good to hear from you!

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