Saturday, November 6, 2010

Warmth of Other Suns


  1. I am just finishing Mark Wyman's Hoboes, Bindlestiffs, etc. about the "harvesting of the west."

    Fascinating look at the rise of migrant labor tied to the railroads and the ability of the "new west" to suddenly produce fruit, wheat etc. for the rest of the nation. Very dense look (hundreds of examples from throughout the west) at the multi-ethnic origins of migrant labor.

    I just read a chapter on the use of migrant laborers to also fight the big fire of 1910, which was a huge event here.

    At the same time, I'm just starting Wilkerson's Warmth of other Suns, which unlike Wyman's book, appears to just focus on a handful of individuals to tell her story of the "great migration" north. Also, unlike Wyman's book (which I'm enjoying), it's incredibly well written so far.

  2. This looks like a very interesting book, av.

  3. I'm very hopeful about this one. Speaking of the Jim Crow South, she writes:

    "The actions of the people in this book were both universal and distinctly American. Their migration was a response to an economic and social structure not of their making. They did what humans have done for centuries when life became untenable -- what the pilgrims did under the tyranny of British rule, what the Scotch-Irish did in Oklahoma when the land turned to dust, what the Irish did when there was nothing to eat, what the European Jews did during the spread of Nazism, what the landless in Russia, Italy, China, and elsewhere did when something better across the ocean called to them. What binds these stories together was the back-against-the-wall reluctant yet hopeful search for something better, any place but where they were. They did what human beings looking for freedom, throughout history, have often done.

    They left."

    What an opening!

    Oral histories are hard to pull off, and I often have trouble reading them, but this one may be a real exception.

    In another one of those signals from the Times, they assigned Janet Maslin to review it (it's linked above). But my initial impression is that this is a more important book than that.

  4. Nicholas Lemann wrote a great book on the black migration a few years back entitled The Promised Land,

  5. Thanks, Gintaras. I missed that one. And of course publishers like to say the topic has never been covered before. Still, very good story so far. The trick from my perspective will be if she can move it from the specific stories (i.e., the oral histories) into the broader narrative.

    I hate to bring this up again but there's an interesting comparison to the book on Lacks, which just won "best book" at Amazon. This woman seems so much more respectful of the people she is interviewing -- and their stories are no less difficult to tell/read about in their way.

    In any event, I'm sticking with this one. (I've been reading so much lately that I don't stick with a book until the end unless I'm really committed to it.)

  6. The Warmth of Other Sons is on my to-read list. Haven't bought it yet.

    Last night I started reading Eugene Robinson's book, Disintegration - The Splintering of Black America. Borrowed it from NYPL (ebook). In part of what I've read so far, he writes about the migration. Also has a chapter about Atlanta in 1906, when there was a big riot against Black population after some rumors about advances made by black men on white women (apparently hearsay).

  7. I hope the book is as good as the two I'm reading -- I really like Eugene Robinson.

    I reached the point in the book on migrant labor on picking the Texas cotton crop, which overlaps what I'm reading in Wilkerson. At some point -- I think the early teens -- the cotton workforce threatened to strike unless they got $1 (a bag or however it was measured). The movement was led by a "white man," but the workforce was mostly black. Six of them were hung.

    Wilkerson doesn't make too much of this, but it's clear what she's thinking -- it was like living in Nazi Germany. You could be rounded up and detained and/or killed and no one did anything about it. I have never really made that direct connection before.

    I worked for a Jewish family when I lived in London whose family had packed up what they could to "go on vacation" and fled Germany. Terrifying to think of living like that.

  8. Yes, Marti, there was a major riot in Atlanta in 1906. Here is a brief description from an article published in the Georgia Historical Quarterly in 2008:

    During the summer of 1906, residents found themselves in the midst of a fierce political campaign to determine who would be the next governor of Georgia. Both candidates in the Democratic primary made the disenfranchisement of African-American voters the major issue in the campaign. Against this backdrop, rival newspapers competed with sensational headlines in an effort to boost circulation, mostly by running lurid stories about black men allegedly assaulting white women. In August, this "Negrophobia" reached a fever pitch with the lynching of an African-American male in Atlanta, ostensibly for the rape of a fourteen-year-old white girl. On Saturday evening, September 22, the papers stirred white fears by reporting four attempted assaults "made by brutal Negroes on defenseless white women." The hysteria turned physical later that night, as mobs of armed whites attacked any blacks who happened to be in the downtown area. Exactly how many were killed and wounded during the initial night of violence is uncertain. The city coroner issued only ten death certificates for black victims, but estimates from other sources range from twenty to forty-seven African-American deaths, one hundred fifty critically injured, and countless others who fled the city.

  9. I returned the Whitman book since it was not put on our reading agenda. I'll try Wilkerson to see if how it's like.

  10. I posted Walt Whitman's America, Warmth of Other Suns and The Coming of the New Deal as suggested reading material in the side margin. I also asked readers to post any other suggestions that appeal to them. Summer is usually not a good time for a reading group, but given that it will soon be September, hopefully there will be more interest.

    As a whole, interest in this forum has dropped off considerably, from 3000 views per month to around 800. I try to keep it going by posting books, articles and other stories that catch my eye, but it would be great if others contributed posts as Rick has done recently. All you have to do is click "New Post" and fire away.

  11. ''3000 views per month to around 800''

    To tell you the truth, it is likely that most of those were mine!

  12. Good the book from the library. So far, it's just a collection of anecdotes (some of which I can relate to). Will continue to read and see how it's like.

  13. Read about 100 pages of the book and am sorry to say I don't think it is worth adding to our reading list. It has an endless array of anecdotes and gives a superficial account of these victims lives. Perhaps if there had been more in-depth analysis of certain people, and how they impacted society, it would have been more interesting.

    I am reminded of Gordon Parks book ''A Choice of Weapons''. Here was a book that dealt with how one man immigrated from the South up North to St Paul, MN. His life and how he overcame so many problems served as inspiration to many. Because of that the book was far more interesting and illuminating.

    Perhaps this gem of a book should be considered by the group.