October 17, 2018

***NEW DATE***

10:00am – Student Forum  •  5:30pm – Pre-Show Gala  •  7:30pm – Award Ceremony

Since 1991, the Freedom Award has honored distinguished individuals who have made great global and national impact. These men and women are lauded for their work in the struggle for civil and human rights.

The Freedom Award will be presented Wednesday, October 17, 2018 at the Orpheum Theatre, preceded by the Red Carpet and Pre-Show Gala at the Halloran Center for Performing Arts.

Freedom Award activities include:

  • 10:00 a.m. - Student Forum at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church
  • 5:00 p.m. - Red Carpet on South Main Street in front of the Halloran Centre and Orpheum Theatre
  • 5:30 p.m. - Pre-Show Gala at the Halloran Centre
  • 7:30 p.m. - Award Ceremony at the Orpheum Theatre




2017 Freedom Award Honorees

The Freedom Award is the museum's signature event that honors outstanding individuals for their significant contributions to civil and human rights. This year's honorees are Bernice King, Hugh Masekela and Morris Dees.

Rev. Bernice King was born into the Movement of parents, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. She was five when her father, one of the most prolific humanitarians and leader of the Civil Rights Movement, was assassinated. Like her father, she is known nationally and internationally as one of the most powerful, motivating and life-changing orators. She began her oratorical journey when she spoke in her mother’s stead at the United Nations at age 17. While serving as a law clerk in the Fulton County Juvenile Court System, she realized that many teens are double victims: first of society and secondly of an ineffective legal system based in retribution instead of rehabilitation. Through her work as Chief Executive Officer of the King Center, Bernice King has continued to educate youth about the Kingian Nonviolence principles modeled by her parents.  FedEx is the sponsor.





Hugh Masekela (1939-2018) was a composer, bandleader, trumpeter, flugelhornist, singer and radical activist against Apartheid. Hugh Masekela grew up in apartheid South Africa listening to the music of Clifford Brown and Louis Armstrong. Apartheid forced him into exile for 30 years for the political unrest surrounding the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre. He was an outspoken critic of the South African regime. Hugh Masekela composed and recorded many songs including his 1968 number one hit "Grazing in the Grass," which won him a Grammy for "Best Contemporary Pop Performance - Instrumental.”   The Hyde Family Foundation is the sponsor.

See the museum's statement on the passing of Hugh Masekela.

Morris Dees is a civil rights lawyer who addresses cases of racial discrimination and combats the power of hate groups. In 1971, Dees worked with fellow attorney Joseph J. Levin, Jr. and civil rights activist Julian Bond to found the Southern Poverty Law Center. Based in Montgomery, the not-for-profit agency was formed to combat hate, intolerance and discrimination through education and litigation. International Paper is the sponsor.

A Special Tribute to the
Memphis sanitation workers

Dr. King’s last act in Memphis was fighting for the rights of the sanitation workers. We are paying special tribute to the 1300 who protested amid an immovable administration in 1968, against unsafe conditions, unjust treatment and unfair wages. Dr. King supported them fully, declaring that “all labor has dignity.” These dignified men created an international rallying cry, “I Am A Man.”  The Ford Motor Company is the sponsor.

Freedom Award Student Forum

Lester Prep students show school pride with posters.

The annual Student Forum is the opening event for the National Civil Rights Museum's Freedom Award celebration. The Forum allows students and members of the Memphis community an opportunity to hear from leaders in the ongoing struggle for civil and human rights. Led by a guest emcee, the goal is to expose youth and the community to civil and human rights leaders and to bridge the gap between everyday people and leaders. Recognizing that they began their life's journey as everyday people, these leaders tell their story on how they were able to accomplish extraordinary things because of their commitment to equality, justice and freedom.

We are also able to offer free transportation service for local school groups to attend the event. These groups constitute a large part of the audience with attendance between 2,500 and 4,000 youth and educators each year. More than 85,000 people have attended Student Forum since it began in 1991.

Keeper of the Dream Award

The Keeper of the Dream Award is a public recognition of selected youth in grades 6 – 12. The 2017 Keeper of the Dream Award recipients are Illeana Real, Trinity Walker, Jalisa Wooten and Haddy Betapudi. This award celebrates and recognizes the heroism of many young people who will have the amazing responsibility of safeguarding our freedom while ensuring equal rights and opportunities for others. Shelby County students in grades 6 – 12 who have demonstrated acts of compassion, leadership, commitment and service are nominated by educators and community leaders.

Sponsored by