VIDEO: Exclusive Interview with Pulitzer Prize Award-Winner Isabel Wilkerson

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Wilkerson Gives Presentation on Her Book
About The Great Migration

Tri-C Western Campus Reporter Brian Ivey is granted an EXCLUSIVE interview with Isabel Wilkerson after her presentation at the Western Campus.

By Jessica Noeth
Metro Campus Reporter

Pulitzer Prize award winner Isabel Wilkerson spoke at the Cuyahoga Community College Western and Metropolitan campuses on February 21, 2012.Courtesy photo by Joe Henson

Wilkerson commented on the existence of a “caste system” in the South, which caused “African Americans to seek political asylum within the borders of their own country,” which ultimately caused the beginning of what would be 6 million African Americans to leave the South and head for the North during this period. She added that before the great migration, 90 percent of all African Americans lived in the South.

Her speech was mainly focused on the writing of her book about the Great Migration in America, which started around the time of World War I and ended in the 1970s. She discussed stories she had heard from three key historical witnesses, who are the main protagonists in her book, and also in the Great Migration itself. One such story was that in the judicial systems of the South, when court was in-session, African Americans and whites took an oath to tell the truth on two different Bibles: there was a “white” Bible and a “black” Bible. Also, one law during that time prohibited African Americans from passing a white driver while on the road, forcing them to “stay in their place.”

Wilkerson mentioned many famous people, whose parents migrated or they themselves migrated during this time, which allowed for talents to be uncovered. This would not have happened if they had remained in the South. For example, Diana Ross’s mother was from Alabama, and her father was from West Virginia, and she would not have existed if it weren’t for their chance meeting through the Great Migration. John Coltrane, the famous jazz musician, migrated when he was 17 years old. And the famous Jackson family migrated to Gary, Ind., just outside Chicago.

Wilkerson made a great point that the story of America’s Great Migration is relevant to the lives of all
Americans, not just African Americans. We can all take away a lesson about perseverance and the power of the desires of the human heart from Wilkerson’s story. Wilkerson said that she, too, is a product of the Great Migration. So many things were made possible for so many people through this time in history, she said.

The on-campus event was part of the Tri-C Celebrating Diversity Series, which includes many other events to come this semester. For more information, visit

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