One Book, One Chicago 2013-14
The Warmth of Other Suns
- The author equates the Great Migration with other vast movements of refugees from war or famine, where people must “go great distances… to reach safety with the hope that life will be better wherever they land.” Talk about migration due to necessity in terms of Ida Mae, George and Robert. Did each of them migrate out of necessity? How do their stories differ when put in that context?
- Why did Isabel Wilkerson choose to focus on these three individuals after interviewing so many migrants? What similarities or contrasts between the three different stories might have influenced her decision?
- How is reading this book a different experience than reading a straightforward history of the Great Migration?
- Wilkerson calls the Great Migration “the greatest untold story of the 20th century.” What are some of the reasons this story was never told?
- In his memoir Black Boy, Richard Wright wrote, “I had fled one insecurity and embraced another,” a quote Wilkerson uses at the start of her chapter “Transplanted in Alien Soil.” Discuss this in terms of Ida Mae, George and Robert. Was this true of them? Is this universally true for all migrants?
- While Robert Foster had his sights set on a life in California, his brother Madison believed, “running away meant Jim Crow had won, and Madison wasn’t going to give the rascals that.” Discuss the African Americans who chose to stay in the South, and the conflict people face when they must choose between possibility and what they know.
- Wilkerson mentions “The Negro in Chicago” (p. 275), a report published in 1922 that included recommendations for improving race relations. The report was largely unheeded, according to Wilkerson. Are we still feeling the ripple effects of race relations from 1922 today in Chicago? How did the conditions faced by African American migrants affect the race relations of the city for decades to come?
- Discuss the life in the North that George found, and what he witnessed about the differences between North and South while traveling back and forth as a porter. Think of the African American passengers who would move to the segregated train as they entered the South. What would you have done, as a porter on that train? How did this experience shape George as a person?
- What anecdote in the book made the most lasting impression? Which of the three main narratives was most memorable?
- Wilkerson writes that “across the South, someone was hanged or burned alive every four days from 1889 to 1929” (p. 39). Public lynching is looked back upon with disgust as a barbaric act. What actions today will people look back upon in a hundred years as barbaric or inhumane?
- How did the Great Migration influence Northern culture? Consider blues music or the literature of the Harlem Renaissance.
- What similarities and/or difference does the Great Migration have with the experience of other migrations? Consider European immigrants from the early 20th century, or the many migrants coming to American cities today.
- More people live in cities than anytime in history. Is Chicago still an attractive destination for people seeking a better life?
More Ideas for Discussion
For more discussion topics and questions, visit The Warmth of Other Suns Reading Group Guide.
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