45 pages 1 hour read

Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth Of Other Suns

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2010

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Important Quotes

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“I was leaving the South to fling myself into the unknown… I was taking a part of the South to transplant in alien soil, to see if it could grow differently, if it could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns and, perhaps, to bloom.” 

(Epigram, Page n/a)

The epigram to The Warmth of Other Suns comes from the memoir Black Boy by influential African-American author Richard Wright. The excerpt, which provides Wilkerson’s title, describes the hope and fear that accompanies moving from a known to an unknown place. Given the injustices and prejudices faced by African-Americans in the South, it was logical that many left for another part of America, where they had better economic prospects and the chance to live as full citizens. The epigram asks: Could Southern blacks assimilate there, or would they forever be tied to the ways of the South?

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“A railing divided the stairs onto the train, one side of the railing for white passengers, the other for colored, so the soles of their shoes would not touch the same stair. [George Swanson Starling] boarded on the colored side of the railing, a final reminder from the place of his birth of the absurdity of the world he was leaving.” 

(Part 1, Page 5)

George Starling’s trip out of the South highlights the absurd practices of segregation: The fact that Starling could not even walk on the same ground as whites proves the insanity that marked the codes and rules of Southern life.

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“From the early years of the twentieth century to well past its middle age, nearly every black family in the American South, which meant nearly every black family in America, had a decision to make. There were sharecroppers losing at settlement. Typists wanting to work in an office. Yard boys scared that a single gesture near the planter’s wife could leave them hanging from an oak tree. They were all stuck in a caste system as hard and unyielding as the red Georgia clay, and they each had a decision before them. In this, they were not unlike anyone who has ever longed to cross the Atlantic or the Rio Grande.” 

(Part 1, Page 8)

Now that African-Americans had the ability to move out of the South, would they take that chance, or would they remain? This question was central to the debate between many black Southerners of whether it was better to move North to escape the South and its ways entirely, or to stay in the South and try to change the mechanisms of its government and social life from within.