New York Times Best-selling author, Isabel Wilkerson, visits JCU

October 15th, 2015



A diverse audience gathered in the Donahue Auditorium on Thursday, Oct. 8 to hear Isabel Wilkerson, author of “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.” Students, community members, families and JCU faculty and staff attended Wilkerson’s lecture.


Isabel Wilkerson is from Washington, D.C. and is a graduate of Howard University, where she earned a degree in journalism. Wilkerson became the editor-in-chief of her college newspaper, The Hilltop, and later an intern for The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.


In 1994, while Wilkerson was working for The New York Times, she won the Pulitzer Prize in journalism for national reporting, becoming the first black woman in history to win this award. Wilkerson also won several awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, including the George S. Polk Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Journalist of the Year Award.


While Wilkerson was working in Chicago as a reporter, she noticed that many African Americans in northern cities had family ties to the southern part of the United States. This led Wilkerson to notice the trend of the Great Migration.


The Great Migration, as Wilkerson defines it, is “the mass outpouring of 6 million citizens of the United States who left the southern part of the United States and spread out all over the rest of the country.”


From 1910 to 1970, many African Americans left the south to flee the persecution and racism they faced there. Wilkerson explained, “The Great Migration was not even about migrating. It was actually about freedom and how far people are willing to go to achieve it,” said Wilkerson.


As Wilkerson learned more about The Great Migration, she decided to write a book about it. Wilkerson wanted people all over the United States to understand this historical event.


She also discussed her inspiration for writing this book, “There are many forms of inspiration but one of them was that my parents were part of the Great Migration, but they never talked about it…No one ever talked about their journey and I just wanted to know why…This was an effort to hear the story.”


During the lecture, Wilkerson talked about the important topics that are covered in “The Warmth of Other Suns.” The main objective of her book was to discuss how immigration was not only seen when people from other countries migrated to the United States; it was also seen when African Americans from the South migrated to the North. Wilkerson’s book explained that migration could also occur within America.


It took Wilkerson 15 years to write “The Warmth of Other Suns,” which was finally published in 2010. She interviewed over 1200 people to help her write the book.


“The Warmth of Other Suns” has received much recognition. It was listed on The New York Times Bestseller List in 2010. Wilkerson’s book has been named to over 30 best of the year lists, including The New York Times Book Review. Furthermore, “The Warmth of Other Suns” won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. In 2011, President Obama chose this book for the Summer Reading List.


Senior Mercedes Lewis attended Wilkerson’s presentation. Lewis says, “This event was a part of the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion and I like all of their events so I am excited to attend this event and see what the speaker is talking about.”


Wilkerson stated, “The Great Migration is the only time American citizens had to travel far to be recognized as citizens in a place they were already living, they had to act like migrants to get treated as citizens,” said Wilkerson. She wanted her book to be an insight into how American citizens were being treated as second-class citizens, even after slavery and the American Civil War.


After Wilkerson discussed the main objectives in her book, she went into detail about how the judicial system played a huge role in segregating America, especially in the south. During her research for her novel, she learned that southern courts required two separate Bibles for black and white people to swear on. If the black Bible was lost, trials had to be postponed because Bibles were not allowed to be cross-contaminated.


To close the lecture, Wilkerson wanted to make sure that the audience understood how important migration has been in the United States, even though many people do not know much about the Great Migration.


After the lecture, several students from the audience gave their opinion on Wilkerson’s presentation.


Junior Wanda Rosario commented on the lecture, “I thought the presentation was great, she knew a lot about the topic she was speaking about, and I feel I can relate to the migration because I’m Hispanic and my parents went through similar situations.”


Junior Dwight Venson also gave his opinion on the lecture,  saying, “I thought it was good, I love when people trace their lineage because you need to know where you come from to know where you are going.”


The overall response to the lecture was positive and many people who attended the event seemed to learn more about migration and its role in the United States.