Women’s History Month Spotlight: Isabel Wilkerson

Adreon Patterson
3 min readMar 21, 2024

Scholar and writer Isabel Wilkerson made the subjects of race and caste conversation points for all. Wilkerson began her life in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., as the daughter of a Tuskegee Airman. She was a product of the Great Migration; her parent left Virginia shortly before her birth. Her parents’ relocation would set the tone for her fascination with racial dynamics and writing. Her love for both subjects led her to study journalism at Howard University, where she became editor-in-chief for the school’s newspaper, The Hilltop.

Her time at Howard was fruitful as Wilkerson scored internships with the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. Working at both publications turned into a position with The New York Times. She soon rose up the ranks to become the Chicago Bureau Chief. During her time as bureau chief, the writer made history as the first Black female journalist to win the Pulitzer Prize for her feature about the 1993 Great Flood.

After her time at the NYT, the Pulitzer Prize winner began focusing her time researching and interviewing subjects for her first book. She spent fifteen years speaking with them about the Jim Crow South. This time birthed her debut book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. It became a New York Times bestseller and won several awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award. She was even given the National Humanities Medal in 2015.

Following the success of The Warmth of Other Suns, Wilkerson began working on her next book. This time, she would argue the correlation between American racial issues and caste systems. The work would become her second New York Times bestseller, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. The subject matter and timing led to the analytic work being named an Oprah Book Club selection and a must-read for millions.

When Wilkerson wasn’t writing, she was shaping the journalists of tomorrow. She taught at renowned institutions, including Emory University and Princeton University. The popularity of her work led to adaptations of both books, with Ava DuVernay’s Origins hitting theaters in 2024.

Isabel Wilkerson put a voice to the plight and triumph of the Black American experience. Turning her fascination with Black life into an examination spotlighted the much-needed discussion. She continues to research and write this undermined history. So, I say, “Ms. Wilkerson, we thank you for using your words to highlight the marginalized and their history.”

You must leave this world a better place than it would have been if you had not existed.

Isabel Wilkerson

Originally published at http://adreonpatterson.net on March 21, 2024.



Adreon Patterson

A multi-faceted creator trying to change the world one word at a time. Check out more at https://adreonpatterson.net