Highlights from Book Club Conversation with Isabel Wilkerson

Many thanks to Isabel Wilkerson for joining us on the Politics for the People conference call this past Sunday!  We had an energizing, rich and thought provoking conversation about The Warmth of Other Suns.  You can listen to the full call at the end of this post.  (Note: if the links do not appear in the email version of this post, just click on the email to come to the blog.)

I wanted to share three sections of our conversation.  I hope they will inspire you to listen to the full call.  The first clip is my introduction of Isabel and our opening conversation.

Isabel Wilkerson (l) and Cathy Stewart

Isabel Wilkerson (l) and Cathy Stewart

 

In my opening question to Isabel, I asked her to talk some about her 15 year process and how she selected Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling and Dr. Robert Joseph Pershing Foster to be the central characters through which we experience the Great Migration.

She conducted an extensive interview process, meeting people at AARP meetings, senior centers, clubs, etc and shared that she selected these three people

“…who together compliment one another so well.  You get a sense of the socioeconomic differences between them, you get a sense of the different circumstances under which they left and more importantly you get a chance to, hopefully fall in love with people, or get to know these people who were flawed in human, deeply human ways but did a very brave thing. In that way, I think they are people anyone can relate to.”

 ***

Jessie Fields

Dr. Jessie Fields

As Politics for the People blog readers know, Dr. Jessie Fields has been keeping copies of The Warmth of Other Suns at her office in Harlem to share with her patients, as many of them were participants in the Great Migration.  Below is Jessie and Isabel’s back and forth from the call.

 

 

Jessie asked Isabel the following question– “It seems to me that entrenched poverty and social isolation in the inner city have become the new Jim Crow. And that there are still great journeys for the country as a whole to make for African Americans to fully enter the mainstream of America and your book, the Warmth of Other Suns, can help us all to make those new journeys together.  What do you hope people will discover and take away from the book that can be of help for the challenges that we face today?”

In her response Isabel said,

“…one of the things that I had hoped would come out of this book is that people would discover by experiencing both the hardships, the heartbreak, the courage and the fortitude of the people in the Great Migration, they would also see and connect with the fortitude and the heartbreak and all that went before them that their ancestors may have experienced if they came from other migration streams.  And that they would also see that ultimately we all have so much more in common that we have been led to believe.  That means that if you can cut through the divisions and the socioeconomic larger forces that have torn people apart in this country…all of these forces, the larger caste system as I describe it in the South and also a caste system that formed in the North, particularly after the migration was underway.  These divisions separated us in ways that we have yet to recover from.  In fact, maybe never have actually truly dealt with.  I would hope that people could see one another in these stories….”

 ***

Dr. Omar Ali

Dr. Omar Ali

Dr. Omar Ali joined the call from Columbia in South America, where he is vacationing with his family.  Give a listen to his exchange with Isabel exploring the similar experiences of participants in the Great Migration and other immigrants to the United States and also the unique experience of the African American community.

Two comments Isabel made in this part of our conversation stand out for me:

“The common experience that all poor and underprivileged migrants experience is first arriving and being seen as the other, arriving adn being resented and feared upon arrival.  Also coming in with the same desires, hopes and dreams of making it it in this new alien place….Around the world there is a turning against, a fear of people who are immigrating….” On the unique experience of the African American community and the Great Migration: This was “…the only group of people who actually had to act like immigrants to be recognized as citizens in their own country…. These were not people relocating from one job to another.  These people were actually seeking political asylum within the borders of their own country….”

For those of you who would like to pull up a chair and listen to our full conversation with Isabel, here it is!  Enjoy.

In closing, I want to share what the judges of the Lynton History prize wrote about The Warmth of Other Suns:

“Wilkerson has created a brilliant and innovative paradox: the intimate epic…. In powerful, lyrical prose that combines the historian’s rigor with the novelist’s empathy, Wilkerson’s book changes our understanding of the Great Migration and indeed of the modern United States”

The Politics for the People book club certainly agree!

***

STAY TUNED, I will be announcing our next selection soon!    

 

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