Favorite Book 2010 asks NPR personalities to write about one book from the past year that they loved. Michel Martin is the host of NPR's Tell Me More.
If you've ever known the joy of finding ten dollars in the pocket of an old pair of pants at the back of the closet, or better yet, a long lost love letter tucked in the corner of your grandmother's armoire, then you will understand the pleasures of this remarkable work. It tells a story hiding in plain sight, about the mass migration of millions of black Americans from the apartheid south to the north and the west, beginning around World War I and lasting until about 1970. That mass migration changed this country forever, but, like that ten dollars, it's a story that's been relegated to back of the history closet, if it's been remembered at all.
Isabel Wilkerson, a former reporter for The New York Times, has revived this important story, but best of all she has figured out how to tell it as the epic drama it was through the eyes of the people who lived it. It's the story of racial codes so ludicrously specific that they barred blacks and whites from playing checkers together in city parks, of a racial hierarchy that was so oppressive that fathers could not protect their daughters from being used for sport, sexual and otherwise, by the white people they worked for and lived alongside. Wilkerson tells how black people finally said goodbye to all this and stole away, sometimes under the cover of darkness, sometimes by driving literally for days without rest, all for the desire to taste, as she puts it, the warmth of other suns. It's an amazing piece of work.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson, Random House, Hardcover, 640 pages.