Pulitzer winner Isabel Wilkerson to speak at UChicago’s MLK commemoration

Author of Caste and The Warmth of Other Suns to speak in Jan. 12 virtual event

Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns and Caste, will be the keynote speaker at the University of Chicago’s 31st annual commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The virtual event, which will begin at 6 p.m. on Jan. 12, will also include a conversation between Wilkerson and Regina Dixon-Reeves, UChicago assistant provost. It will be streamed live on the University’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

“We are excited to welcome Isabel Wilkerson to the University of Chicago. Like Dr. King, Ms. Wilkerson challenges each of us to summon the moral courage to act when we see another person being treated unfairly and to work collectively to dismantle the systems of oppression we find ourselves in,” said Dixon-Reeves, who provides leadership for diversity and inclusion programs, faculty development initiatives and strategic planning at the University.

A leading figure in narrative nonfiction and the first Black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism, Wilkerson is a renowned interpreter of the human condition. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2015, five years after the publication of The Warmth of Other Suns. An award-winning historical study of the Great Migration, the book drew from 15 years of interviews with more than 1,200 people.

Her latest bestselling work, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, is a portrait of systemic inequality that connects the oppression of Black Americans to caste systems in India and Nazi Germany. The New York Times described it as “an instant American classic,” while Oprah Winfrey said it can show us a way to “a world in which all are truly equal and free.”

Wilkerson’s appearance at the upcoming celebration continues UChicago’s rich tradition of prominent MLK commemoration speakers, including Barack Obama, Rev. Jesse Jackson and educator/activist Angela Davis. Traditionally held at Rockefeller Chapel, the annual MLK commemoration brings together members of the UChicago campus and greater South Side community in celebration of Dr. King’s life and legacy. Dr. King himself spoke at Rockefeller Chapel twice—first in 1956 and again in 1959—as his national profile grew as a civil rights leader.

“While it’s difficult to imagine not gathering at Rockefeller this year, our goal is to cultivate the same spirit—an opportunity to reflect on the promise of a just society, to find renewal and inspiration, and to connect with people who share a vision for a more equitable future,” said Ravi Randhava, assistant provost and executive director of the Center for Identity + Inclusion.

In addition to Wilkerson’s address, the Jan. 12 commemoration will recognize this year’s recipients of the Diversity Leadership Awards, which honor UChicago faculty, staff, alumni and students who display leadership in fostering diversity and advance social justice and equity.

The event will include remarks from President Robert J. Zimmer; Maurice Charles, dean of Rockefeller Chapel; and Dinah Clottey, a third-year undergraduate in the College. It will also feature performances from the Chicago Children’s Choir and the Timeless Gifts Children’s Choir.