Isabel Wilkerson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was presented with an honorary doctor of humane letters during Niagara University’s 2011 undergraduate commencement ceremony, has been awarded the 2015 National Humanities Medal.
Wilkerson was one of 12 distinguished honorees chosen by President Barack Obama for receipt of the 2015 National Humanities Medals in conjunction with the National Medal of Arts. She accepted the honor during a ceremony held today at the White House.
“Our understanding of ourselves, our history and our culture have been deepened and transformed by these extraordinary humanities medalists,” said National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman William Adams. “I am proud to join President Obama in celebrating the achievements of these distinguished individuals.”
Wilkerson spent most of her early career as a national correspondent and bureau chief at The New York Times. She is the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in the history of American journalism. Inspired by her own parents’ migration, she devoted 15 years to the research and writing of her book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.
“(This book) is about people jumping off a cliff, just as I was, just as you are about to do,” Wilkerson told the new Niagara University graduates in May 2011. “It showed me that it is encoded in our DNA, one might say, as to how to survive, how to succeed. There is absolutely nothing that you cannot do.”
The National Endowment for the Humanities manages the nomination process on behalf of the White House. Each year, the NEH invites medalist nominations from individuals and organizations across the country. The National Council on the Humanities, NEH’s presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed advisory body, reviews the nominations and provides recommendations to the President, who selects the recipients.
Created as an independent federal agency in 1965, NEH awards grants that support research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. NEH is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Since 1996, when the first National Humanities Medal was given, 175 individuals have been honored, inclusive of this year’s recipients. Thirteen organizations have also received medals.
A complete list of previous honorees is available at www.neh.gov/about/awards/national-humanities-medals.