by Saul Nishan | WSP Class of 2023
The daughter of parents who fled the South and Jim Crow, Isabel Wilkerson sought real stories from real people. She was the first black woman to be a Pulitzer Prize winner, and the first African American to win for individual reporting, at that. Wilkerson dedicated fifteen years to the making of this six-hundred-page book, interviewing over 1200 individuals documenting the widespread phenomenon that was the Great Migration.
“Such may be the sheer force of determination of any emigrant leaving one repressive place for something he or she hopes will be better. But for many of the migrants from the South, the stakes were especially high – there was no place left to go, no other refuge or other suns to search for, in their own country if they failed. Things had to work out, whatever it took, and that determination showed up in the statistics.” (Wilkerson 530.)
These stories that Isabel Wilkerson brings to paper capture the desperation of the times. There was a blind faith that so many people simply had to put in their plans of leaving the south because they had no other choice. The times were cold, and there was word of sunshine in the north.
Isabel Wilkerson translates real life experiences gracefully on the page, blending these three stories with information and context of the times with care. She shows us experiences from people who would have otherwise blended into history as simply a small part of the great phenomenon that swept America. She brings these similar yet very different experiences to light for us, following three of millions who had gone in search of warmth.
I recommend reading this book because the switching of focus on different main characters saves from a droning on and on about one person. You’re allowed to take a break from someone’s story and read something new without having to put down the book. It adds depth to the whole of the reading and learning experience, as sometimes the material can get to be a lot. This book gives the reader a view through the eyes of three people who had to find their ways in the dark, trusting that they would reach a light to bring the warmth of other suns.
Read more student perspectives in the Waldorf Chronicles, a newsletter run by WSP high school students.