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Author Isabel Wilkerson On “Caste” And This Country’s Racial Moment of Truth

Journalist and author Isabel Wilkerson, an authority on the Great Migration and the anthropology of caste, will anchor the Cleveland Foundation’s annual meeting with a keynote conversation Monday, August 23. Guests can register to hear Wilkerson at 7 p.m. here.

Sixty-one years after the writer was born in Washington, D.C., Wilkerson has observations worth attending: about why India and the United States have proven especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, about the traces of caste detectable in this year’s summer Olympics and how she thinks about the January 6 insurrectionists carrying the Confederate flag into the Capital.

Wilkerson, who won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2011 for “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” is unusual in sustaining long years of influence for her books. She lectured at more than 100 universities in the wake of “The Warmth of Other Suns” and visited four continents. “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” published in 2020, is following the same trajectory, albeit mostly via internet presentations.

“The freedom to be able to decide for oneself what to do with your God-given talents is a very new phenomenon for African-Americans in this country,” Wilkerson observed in 2015 on a visit to Cleveland. She asked her audience to ponder all the wasted human potential through 12 generations of slavery on American soil.

Wilkerson sees these times of pandemic and reckoning as a signal moment to live up to what Martin Luther King Jr. called the citizenry to do, another chance to “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony.”

The writer will join Daniel Gray-Kontar, founder of Twelve Literary Arts, in a discussion of what Clevelanders might do now.

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