Quotes from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

Isabel Wilkerson ·  622 pages

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“They did what human beings looking for freedom, throughout history, have often done. They left.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“It occurred to me that no matter where I lived, geography could not save me.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“Our Negro problem, therefore, is not of the Negro's making. No group in our population is less responsible for its existence. But every group is responsible for its continuance.... Both races need to understand that their rights and duties are mutual and equal and their interests in the common good are idential.... There is no help or healing in apparaising past responsibilities or in present apportioning of praise or blame. The past is of value only as it aids in understanding the present; and an understanding of the facts of the problem--a magnanimous understanding by both races--is the first step toward its solution.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“They traveled deep into far-flung regions of their own country and in some cases clear across the continent. Thus the Great Migration had more in common with the vast movements of refugees from famine, war, and genocide in other parts of the world, where oppressed people, whether fleeing twenty-first-century Darfur or nineteenth-century Ireland, go great distances, journey across rivers, desserts, and oceans or as far as it takes to reach safety with the hope that life will be better wherever they land.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“The measure of a man’s estimate of your strength,” he finally told them, “is the kind of weapons he feels that he must use in order to hold you fast in a prescribed place.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration



“Over the decades, perhaps the wrong questions have been asked about the Great Migration. Perhaps it is not a question of whether the migrants brought good or ill to the cities they fled to or were pushed or pulled to their destinations, but a question of how they summoned the courage to leave in the first place or how they found the will to press beyond the forces against them and the faith in a country that had rejected them for so long. By their actions, they did not cream the American Dream, they willed it into being by a definition of their own choosing. They did not ask to be accepted but declared themselves the Americans that perhaps few others recognized but that they had always been deep within their hearts.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“The revolution had come too late for him. He was in his midforties when the Civil Rights Act was signed and close to fifty when its effects were truly felt.

He did not begrudge the younger generation their opportunities. He only wished that more of them, his own children, in particular, recognized their good fortune, the price that had been paid for it, and made the most of it. He was proud to have lived to see the change take place.

He wasn't judging anyone and accepted the fact that history had come too late for him to make much use of all the things that were now opening up. But he couldn't understand why some of the young people couldn't see it. Maybe you had to live through the worst of times to recognize the best of times when they came to you. Maybe that was just the way it was with people.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“...they speak like melted butter and their children speak like footsteps on pavement...”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“That’s why I preach today, Do not do spite,” he said. “Spite does not pay. It goes around and misses the object that you aim and comes back and zaps you. And you’re the one who pays for it.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“The story describes an incident during the trial of a black schoolteacher accused of disposing of a mule on which there was a mortgage. A defense witness, who was colored but looked white, took the stand and was being sworn in when the judge told the sheriff the man had been given the wrong Bible.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration



“Many of the people who left the South never exactly sat their children down to tell them these things, tell them what happened and why they left and how they and all this blood kin came to be in this northern city or western suburb or why they speak like melted butter and their children speak like footsteps on pavement, prim and proper or clipped and fast, like the New World itself. Some spoke of specific and certain evils. Some lived in tight-lipped and cheerful denial. Others simply had no desire to relive what they had already left. The facts of their lives unfurled over the generations like an over-wrapped present, a secret told in syllables. Sometimes the migrants dropped puzzle pieces from the past while folding the laundry or stirring the corn bread, and the children would listen between cereal commercials and not truly understand until they grew up and had children and troubles of their own. And the ones who had half-listened would scold and kick themselves that they had not paid better attention when they had the chance.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“Now, we ain't got nothing to do with God's business," she says, sitting back in her seat. She adjusts herself and straightens her scarf, contenting herself with whatever the day has in store.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“And as they had been riding for as many as twenty-four hours and were nervous about missing their stop, some got off prematurely, and, it is said, that is how Newark gained a good portion of its black population, those arriving in Newark by accident and deciding to stay.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“Jim Crow had a way of turning everyone against one another, not just white against black or landed against lowly, but poor against poorer and black against black for an extra scrap of privilege.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“What few people seemed to realize or perhaps dared admit was that the thick walls of the caste system kept everyone in prison. The rules that defined a group’s supremacy were so tightly wound as to put pressure on everyone trying to stay within the narrow confines of acceptability. It meant being a certain kind of Protestant, holding a particular occupation, having a respectable level of wealth or the appearance of it, and drawing the patronizingly appropriate lines between oneself and those of lower rank of either race in that world.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration



“for far longer: Blacks were enslaved in this country for 244 years, from 1619 to 1863. As of 2010, they have been free for 147 years.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“I don’t see one white person in this block selling drugs. They got the nerve to be mad at the blue-eyed devil. You don’t have to take those drugs and sell ’em. Nobody’s making you sell drugs. We’re the ones that’s killing ourselves. They won’t learn in this century and maybe not in the next one.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“There appeared to be an overarching phenomenon that sociologists call a “migrant advantage.” It is some internal resolve that perhaps exists in any immigrant compelled to leave one place for another. It made them “especially goal oriented, leading them to persist in their work and not be easily discouraged,”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“They did not ask to be accepted but declared themselves the Americans that perhaps few others recognized but that they had always been deep within their hearts. NOTES ON METHODOLOGY I began this work because of what I saw as incomplete perceptions, outside of scholarly circles, of what the Great Migration was and how and why it happened, particularly through the eyes of those who experienced it. Because it was so unwieldy and lasted for so long, the movement did not appear to rise to the level of public consciousness that, by any measure, it seemed to deserve. The first question, in my view, had to do with its time frame: what was it, and when precisely did it occur? The Great Migration is often described as a jobs-driven, World War I movement, despite decades of demographic evidence and real-world indicators that it not only continued well into the 1960s but gathered steam with each decade, not ending until the social, political, and economic reasons for the Migration began truly to be addressed in the South in the dragged-out, belated response to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The second question had to do with where it occurred. The migration from Mississippi to Chicago has been the subject of the most research through the years and has dominated discussion of the phenomenon, in part because of the sheer size of the black influx there and because of the great scholarly interest taken in it by a cadre of social scientists working in Chicago at the start of the Migration. However, from my years as a national correspondent at The New York Times and my early”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“Contrary to modern-day assumptions, for much of the history of the United States—from the Draft Riots of the 1860s to the violence over desegregation a century later—riots were often carried out by disaffected whites against groups perceived as threats to their survival.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration



“Sometimes,” he said, “you have to stoop to conquer.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“Black passengers getting off in Washington had nothing to worry about. But for those continuing south, the crews who ran the train, the porters who helped passengers on and off, and the black passengers themselves knew to gather their things and move to the Jim Crow car up front to make sure the races were separated when the train crossed into the state of Virginia. The”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“the worst thing that could happen to a colored child in the South was for a parent to hear that a child was acting up. There would be no appeals, the punishment swift and physical. The arbitrary nature of grown people’s wrath gave colored children practice for life in the caste system, which is why parents, forced to train their children in the ways of subservience, treated their children as the white people running things treated them. It was preparation for the lower-caste role children were expected to have mastered by puberty.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“They fly from the land: W. H. Stillwell, “Exode,” Chicago Inter-Ocean, March 12, 1881. The stanza reads: “They fly from the land that bore them, as the Hebrews fled the Nile; from the heavy burthens [sic] o’er them; from unpaid tasks before them; from a serfdom base and vile.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“How could it be that people were fighting to the death over something that was, in the end, so very ordinary?”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration



“Johnson devoted an entire section to racial etiquette on the highway. “When driving their own cars,” he wrote, “they were expected to maintain their role as Negros and in all cases to give whites the right-of-way.” He later added, “If there is any doubt about whose turn it is to make a move in traffic, the turn is assumed to be the white person’s.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“One county in Virginia—Prince Edward County—closed its entire school system for five years, from 1959 to 1964, rather than integrate.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“This would suggest that the people of the Great Migration who ultimately made lives for themselves in the North and West were among the most determined of those in the South, among the most resilient of those who left, and among the most resourceful of blacks in the North, not unlike immigrant groups from other parts of the world who made a way for themselves in the big cities of the North and West.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


“Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, they would have to collect their belongings and change trains in Jackson, Tennessee, to board the Illinois Central Railroad, the legendary rail system that, for a great portion of the twentieth century, carried upward of a million colored people from the Deep South up the country’s central artery, across the Mason-Dixon Line, and into a new world called the Midwest. It carried so many southern blacks north that Chicago would go from 1.8 percent black at the start of the twentieth century to one-third black by the time the flow of people finally began to slow in 1970. Detroit’s black population would skyrocket from 1.4 percent to 44 percent during the era of the Migration.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, quote from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration


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Isabel Wilkerson
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