October 17, 2018

10:00am – Student Forum  •  5:00pm – 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. - Pre-Show Gala at the Halloran Centre (with Red Carpet on South Main Street in front of the Halloran Centre and Orpheum Theatre)
  • 7:30 p.m. - Award Ceremony at the Orpheum Theatre





If you have questions about Freedom Award or would like to request credentials to cover the event, email Connie Dyson

2018 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 Vice President Joe Biden, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and philanthropist Pitt Hyde.

As a young man in then-segregated Wilmington, Delaware, Joe Biden was inspired to begin a life of public service by the leaders of the civil rights movement. Only a few years later, Biden became one of the youngest senators elected to U.S. Congress when he was elected to represent the state of Delaware at the age of 29.  As a senator for 36 years, Biden was recognized for his work in criminal justice and international affairs. In 2008, he was elected Vice President, serving alongside President Barack Obama, where he continued to work to shape policies impacting the living standards of middle-class America, gun violence and violence against women. In 2017, President Obama awarded Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction, calling him a “lion of American history” honored for “faith in his fellow American, for [his] love of country and a lifetime of service that will endure through the generations.” Since leaving the White House, Vice President Biden has continued to stay engaged in the issues that have always animated his career, including through the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware. 


The Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is one of the foremost civil rights, religious and political figures of our time. For nearly 50 years, he has played a pivotal role in virtually every movement for peace, civil rights, empowerment, gender equality, and economic and social justice the world over. A testament to the breadth and depth of his works can best be expressed by two of the greatest honors he has received. In 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Reverend Jackson; and, in 2013, the South African government bestowed upon him their highest civilian honor, their National Order, the Companions of OR Tambo. 

Reverend Jackson has been called the "Conscience of the Nation" and "the Great Unifier," challenging America to be inclusive and to establish just and humane priorities for the benefit of all. He is known for bringing people together on common ground across lines of race, faith, gender, culture and class.


J.R. “Pitt” Hyde III is trustee of the Hyde Family Foundation. His lifetime of executive and entrepreneurial experience shaped his hands-on grantmaking, focus on data-driven impact, and his philosophy emphasizing programs designed to tackle the urban challenges facing his hometown of Memphis.

Acting on the family tradition of giving back to his city, his business leadership shaped a nationally recognized family foundation focused on improving the lives, empowering others to drive change in their neighborhoods, and bringing business principles to civic engagement. Working with his wife, Foundation Chair and CEO, Barbara Rosser Hyde, he established the philanthropy’s priorities -- transforming education, strengthening neighborhoods, engaging civic leadership and promoting Memphis’ unique assets in arts and culture. He recognized that education reform is the civil rights issue of our time and his persuasive advocacy has been credited with Memphis being recognized as ground zero for the most innovative reform efforts in the U.S.  Hyde and his wife were awarded the 2017 William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership by the Philanthropy Roundtable. 

A Special Tribute to
Aretha Franklin

The Museum will pay tribute to the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin, during the award ceremony acknowledging her role in the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights Movements, and the impact she had through her creative gifts in empowering those who felt marginalized.

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.  Keeper of the Dream Award nominations are open until Saturday, September 15, 5:00pm.

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