Freedom Award | National Civil Rights Museum

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Freedom Award

One of the nation's most prestigious events

The Freedom Award is an annual event for the National Civil Rights Museum. Held each year in the fall, The Freedom Award honors individuals who have made significant contributions in civil rights and who have laid the foundation for present and future leaders in the battle for human rights. Since 1991, the Freedom Award has served as a symbol of the ongoing fight for human rights both in America and worldwide.

2021 Award Honorees
Michelle Obama

Freedom Award – 2011

Michelle Robinson Obama served as First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Mrs. Obama started her career as an attorney at the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin, where she met her future husband, Barack Obama. She later worked in the Chicago mayor’s office, at the University of Chicago, and at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Mrs. Obama also founded the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, an organization that prepares young people for careers in public service.


Led by Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis
Freedom Award – 2021

THE POOR PEOPLE’S CAMPAIGN: A National Call for Moral Revival picked up the unfinished work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others, to confront the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.

REV. DR. WILLIAM J. BARBER II is the architect of the Moral Movement, which began with weekly Moral Monday protests at the North Carolina General Assembly in 2013. His leadership in the relaunch of the Poor People’s Campaign in 2018, the virtual 2020 and on-site 2021 Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington have mobilized diverse audiences.

Co-Chairing with Barber is REV. DR. LIZ THEOHARIS, Director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Theoharis has over 20 years working with grassroots organizations in workers’ rights, homelessness and welfare rights to win significant victories for the poor.



2020 was a bear! We’ve all had been through a lot. But the night of Freedom Award 2020, we celebrated! It was a Virtual Tribute to the men and women who have inspired us to do more and changed the world. It was an exclusive view of how the honorees became who they are. It was a full range of emotions. On that night, we regained hope, purpose, and victory. We celebrated life and freedom.

2019 Award Winners
John Legend

Freedom Award – 2019

John Legend is a leading recording artist who uses his influence and resources to promote social justice and equality. It was for this purpose that he launched the Show Me Campaign in 2007. Drawing inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his contemporaries, John Legend believes that all children deserve a quality education that interrupts the cycle of poverty and allows them to fulfill their full potential.   His recording “Preach” targets a broken criminal justice system begging for reform.  His mini-series Can’t Just Preach follows survivors of tragedy as they tell their stories of resilience and change-making activism.

Hafsat Abiola

Freedom Award – 2019

Hafsat Abiola is a Nigerian human rights, civil rights and democracy activist. She is President of Women in Africa. (WIA), the first global platform dedicated to the economic development and support of leading and high potential African women. WIA supports, accompanies and contributes to the promotion of a new generation of African women to the service of an inclusive and innovative Africa. Through her non-profit, the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), she has worked to promote exemplary women leaders and build pathways to public service for them. Motivated by women’s strength, Hafsat Abiola believes that the challenges facing the continent of Africa offer opportunities for women’s leadership to emerge. Her work is a tribute to her parents who lost their lives while leading the democracy movement that brought an end to military rule in Nigeria in the ‘90s.

Gloria Steinem

Freedom Award – 2019

Gloria Steinem is a writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer. She travels globally as an organizer and lecturer and is a frequent spokeswoman on issues of equality. She is particularly interested in the shared origins of gender and race caste systems, in non-violent conflict resolution, in the cultures of indigenous peoples, and in organizing across boundaries for peace and justice. She co-founded the Women's Action Alliance, a pioneering national information center that specialized in non-sexist, multi-racial children's education, and the National Women's Political Caucus, a group founded to advance the numbers of pro-equality women in elected and appointed office. She is the founding president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, a national multi-racial, multi-issue fund that supports grassroots projects to empower women and girls. She was a member of the Beyond Racism Initiative, a three-year effort on the part of activists and experts from South Africa, Brazil and the United States to compare the racial patterns and to learn cross-nationally.


2018 Award Winners
Joe Biden

Freedom Award – 2018

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. 

Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.

Freedom Award – 2018

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

Freedom Award – 2018

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.


2017 Award Winners
Rev. Bernice A. King

Freedom Award – 2017

Rev. Bernice A. 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.

Morris Dees
Freedom Award – 2017

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.


Hugh Masekela

Freedom Award – 2017

Hugh Masekela is 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 has 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.”

2016 Award Winners
Benjamin Crump

Freedom Award – 2016

Benjamin Crump is an American attorney at the Tallahassee, Florida based law firm Parks & Crump, LLC. Crump is known for taking on high visibility pro bono cases with widespread media attention and civil rights implications. Those cases include representation for the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice.

Tawakkol Karman

Freedom Award – 2016

Tawakkol Karman is a Yemeni journalist, politician, and human rights activist. She leads the group "Women Journalists Without Chains," which she co-founded in 2005. She became the international public face of the 2011 Yemeni uprising that is part of the Arab Spring uprisings. Tawakkol Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 in recognition of her work in nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace building work in Yemen. Upon being awarded the prize, Tawakkol became the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman, and the second Muslim woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate to date, at the age of 32.She has been called the "Iron Woman" and "Mother of the Revolution" by Yemenis.


Judge Damon J. Keith

Freedom Award – 2016

Hon. Damon Jerome Keith is the longest serving judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Court (1977 - present). Judge Keith has presided over seminal civil rights cases. His guiding principles shaped what would become historic rulings on wire-tapping, segregation, workers' rights, access to education, public housing and urban renewal, and issues of privacy. At 93-years old he is living, judicial history.

Soledad O'Brien

Freedom Award – 2016

Soledad O'Brien is an American broadcast journalist and executive producer. She is the chairman of Starfish Media Group. In 2007 O'Brien began a multi-part CNN special, Black in America, documenting the successes, struggles, and complex issues faced by black men, women and families 40 years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. In "The Black Woman & Family," O'Brien explored the varied experiences of black women and families and investigated the disturbing statistics of single parenthood, racial disparities between students, and the devastating toll of HIV/AIDS. In 2009, O'Brien expanded her series with the documentary Latino In America. 


Brian Stevenson

Freedom Award – 2016

Brian Stevenson is an American lawyer, social justice activist, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and a clinical professor at New York University School of Law. Stevenson has gained national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and minorities in the criminal justice system. Stevenson has assisted in securing relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, advocated for poor people and developed community-based reform litigation aimed at improving the administration of criminal justice.


2015 Award Winners
AVA DuVernay

Freedom Award – 2015

winning 2014 film, Selma. Chronicling the historic events that led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., DuVernay’s Selma led her to becoming the first African American female director to have a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture as well as the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award.


Joan Trumpauer Mulholland

Freedom Award – 2015

Joan Trumpaeur Mulholland is a civil rights activist and one of the Freedom Riders arrested and held on death row in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Penitentiary, in 1961. By the time she was 19, Mulholland had participated in a dozen sit-ins and protests. She is the first Caucasian to integrate Tugaloo College in Jackson, MS where she became the first white to join Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority, Inc. While attending Tougaloo, she was involved in what is noted as one of the most violent sit-ins at the Jackson Woolworth lunch counter in 1963.



Ruby Bridges-Hall

Freedom Award – 2015

Ruby Bridges-Hall became a civil rights activist at the age of 6 years when she was the first African American to integrate a school in the South. In 1960 Bridges-Hall was among many other African American children chosen by New Orleans NAACP leaders to take a test determine their attendance to an all-white school. The test was designed to be particularly difficult for African American students, but Bridges-Hall, a kindergartener, was one of six black students to pass the test. Still an activist, Bridges-Hall is the founder of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, promoting the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences. Through education and inspiration, the foundation seeks to end racism and prejudice.

2014 Award Winners
Charlayne Hunter-Gault

International Freedom Award – 2014

Charlayne Hunter-Gault is an award-winning journalist with more than 40 years in the industry, working in every medium. She began her journalism career as a reporter for The New Yorker and later worked as a local news anchor for WRC-TV in Washington, DC, and as the Harlem bureau chief for The New York Times. As a global journalist, Hunter-Gault worked as NPR's chief correspondent in Africa and CNN’s Johannesburg Bureau Chief and Correspondent. Hunter-Gault joined NPR in 1997 after 20 years with PBS, where she worked as a national correspondent for NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Hunter-Gault was one the heroic students who integrated universities in the American South. In her From Jim Crow America to Apartheid South Africa & Beyond: An Activist Journalists Journey, Hunter-Gault describes her historic entry into the University of Georgia as it's first black woman student and the road she took through Jim Crow South to get there. She chronicles her rise from there to the top of her profession and the stories she covered along the way including South Africa's Jim Crow-like system of Apartheid and the victory of its people over the system.

Robert Parris Moses

National Freedom Award – 2014

Robert (Bob) Parris Moses left his life in Harlem in 1961 and went to Mississippi into the fray of a civil rights battle for voter rights. He's an educator and civil rights activist whose name is synonymous with the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. As a leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Moses traveled to counties in Mississippi to educate and register voters, facing relentless violence and intimidation. By 1964, Moses had become Co-Director of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella organization for the major civil rights groups working in Mississippi. As a SNCC leader, he recruited college students from around the country to come to Mississippi to help in the black voter education and registration. Moses was also instrumental in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), a group that challenged the all-white regular Democratic Party delegates at the 1964 convention.

In 1982, Moses received a MacArthur Fellowship, which he used to found the Algebra Project, an organization that teaches math skills to minority students in impoverished communities and equips parents to advocate for needed educational reforms. Moses expanded the Algebra Project from teaching math in one school, to teaching math methods in over 200 schools across the country by the late 1990s.

Frank Robinson

Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports – 2014

Hall of Famer Frank Robinson was one of the highest ranking African Americans in Major League Baseball as Executive Vice President of Player Development. He was a ballplayer whose career was so outstanding that he starred in both major leagues, as a player and as a manager. In 21 seasons as an active player, primarily with the Cincinnati Reds and the Baltimore Orioles, Robinson hit for both power and average, with a career average of .294 hits, 586 home runs, and 1812 runs batted in. Until injuries slowed him down in the mid-1960s, he was a threat on the bases as well averaging just over 17 stolen bases a year between 1957 and 1965. Along the way he helped his teams win five pennants and two World Series titles. He remains the only player in history to win the MVP in both leagues.

In 2005, President Bush honored Robinson with the meritorious Presidential Medal of Freedom and during the 2008 Civil Rights Game in Memphis, he earned the MLB Beacon of Life Award bestowed upon an individual whose life embodies the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement.

Tom Brokaw

Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism – 2014

Tom Brokaw is a television journalist and author best known as the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004. Covering important milestones in American and global history, Brokaw was the first reporter to interview Mikhail Gorbachev and first to report on human rights abuses in Tibet accompanied by an exclusive interview with the Dalai Lama. He was the only American anchor to report from Berlin the night the wall came down, and he has extensively reported on the triumphs and tragedies of the Civil Rights Movement. He also covered Watergate and 9/11. In addition to his historic reign in the anchor seat, Tom Brokaw produced many specials for NBC, including 2001’s “The Greatest Generation Speaks,” based on Brokaw’s best-selling 1998 book, The Greatest Generation.

During his retirement, Brokaw hosted History Channel documentaries, including 1968 with Tom Brokaw, which portrayed the year as one of the most turbulent and pivotal periods in American history. Early in his career (1965), he moved to Atlanta to cover the Civil Rights Movement and was able to cover stories on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while serving as anchor and editor at KMTV.

2013 Award Winners
President Mary Robinson

International Freedom Award – 2013

Mary Robinson is the President of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice. She served as President of Ireland from 1990-1997 and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2002. She is a member of the Elders and the Club of Madrid and the recipient of numerous honors and awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the President of the United States Barack Obama. She is a member of the Lead Group of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement. In March 2013 Mary was appointed the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa. A former President of the International Commission of Jurists and former chair of the Council of Women World Leaders she was President and founder of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative from 2002-2010 and served as Honorary President of Oxfam International from 2002-2012. Mary Robinson serves as Patron of the Board of the Institute of Human Rights and Business in addition to being a board member of several organizations including the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the European Climate Foundation. Mary is the Chancellor of the University of Dublin since 1998. Mary's memoir, Everybody Matters, was published in March 2013.

Geoffrey Canada

National Freedom Award – 2013

Geoffrey Canada has dedicated much of his life to community outreach with a special focus on education and providing resources to poor families. His passion for education and inner-city youth directly tie back to his own experience growing up in "rough" South Bronx, New York. The educator and president of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a nonprofit organization that provides education and support to local children and their families, has become a "shining example for how to save America’s failing public schools." In the grim public education documentary “Waiting for Superman,” Canada stands out as the singular voice of hope in a film that paints the nation’s public school system as suffering and struggling. Canada's Harlem Children's Zone model, which is now being replicated by other communities across the country, has expanded its reach to more than 20 sites throughout Central Harlem and continues to affect the lives of more than 12,300 children and 12,400 adults.

Earl G. Graves, Sr.

Lifetime Achievement Award – 2013

Earl G. Graves is recognized early the importance of Black consumer power, as well as the need for more Black businesses. Considered by many to be the "Black Business Bible," Graves' Black Enterprise Magazine, has remained steadfast to its mission of educating and empowering entrepreneurship in the Black community. The business has grown immensely, and so has its reach. Now formally titled Earl G. Graves Limited, the company is now home to programs and events such as the Wealth for Life Initiative, the Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit, the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference + Expo and more. Broadcast programs such as Black Enterprise Business Report and Our World with Black Enterprise also reach out to an array of Black entrepreneurs, corporate executives, investors and innovators. Graves' lifetime commitment to empowering Black business and the economic of the Black community has forever changed how the community and the world perceive Black businesses. He taught us to never underestimate black consumer power, nor to underestimate the power we each have to create our own success. He leads by example and serves as a reminder of our ability not only to succeed, but also to thrive.

2012 Award Winners
MuhummaD Yunus

International Freedom Award – 2012

Dr. Muhammad Yunus is an economist and Ph.D. graduate from Vanderbilt University in Nashville. A native of the country of Bangledesh, he taught economics at Middle Tennessee State University before returning to his country of Bangladesh in South Asia.

The originator of a ‘village bank’, founded on the principal of trust and solidarity, Dr. Yunus is Chairman of the Yunus Centre and the Founder of Grameen Bank, which currently operating 1,781 branches and provides credit to 5.6 million poor people residing in 60,815 villages in Bangladesh. His banking without collateral—for the poorest of the poor—was frowned upon by banks and the government. Dr. Yunus however, carried on giving out ‘micro-loans’ and in 1983 formed the Grameen Bank. Of the borrowers, 97% are women and over 97% of the loans are paid back, a recovery rate higher than any other banking system. In 2006, he and the bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Grameen methods are applied in projects in 58 countries, including the US, Canada, France, The Netherlands and Norway.

Dr. Yunus holds honorary doctorate degrees from many universities all over the world and serves on the boards of many national and international organizations. Besides Grameen Bank, he has created a number of companies in Bangladesh to address diverse issues of poverty and development.

Bernard Lafayette

National Freedom Award – 2012

DR. BERNARD LAFAYETTE is a minister, educator, lecturer, and Civil Rights activist. In 1960 he, along with Diane Nash, James Bevel, and John Lewis, led the Nashville Student Movement, and sought to effect change through these non-violence principles. Later in the year he assisted in the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). His other contributions to the Movement include leadership roles in the 1961 Freedom Rides, the 1965 Selma Movement, the Alabama Voter Registration Project in 1962, the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement, and as National Program Administrator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

While in school at the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, TN, Dr. Lafayette was exposed to the fundamental principles of Gandhian non-violence, and sought to incorporate these principles in combating racial injustice. He later was appointed as National Coordinator of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. In addition, Dr. LaFayette has served as Director of Peace and Justice in Latin

America; Chairperson of the Consortium on Peace Research, Education and Development; Director of the PUSH Excel Institute; and minister of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tuskegee, Alabama.

After receiving his B.A. from the American Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Lafayette earned his Ed.M. and Ed.D from Harvard University. He has served on the faculties of Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta and Alabama State University in Montgomery, where he was Dean of the Graduate School; he also was principal of Tuskegee Institute High School in Tuskegee, Alabama and a teaching fellow at Harvard University.

Dr. LaFayette is currently a Distinguished-Scholar-in-Residence and Director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island. He is the chairperson for the International Nonviolence Executive Planning Board. He has been re-appointed by Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri as the chairman for the Rhode Island Select Commission on Race and Police-Community Relations.

Marlo Thomas

Humanitarian Award  – 2012

MARLO THOMAS is an actress, producer, social activist and philanthropist. She serves as National Outreach Director for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. And, in 1973 Marlo Thomas joined Gloria Steinem, Patricia Carbine and Letty Cottin Pogrebin as the founders of the country’s first women’s fund, the Ms. Foundation for Women. The organization was created to deliver funding and other resources to organizations that were presenting women’s voices in communities nationwide.

Because of the pledge made by her father, the late comedian Danny Thomas, and kept by the family and the talented doctors of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the National Civil Rights Museum awards the 2012 Humanitarian Award to Marlo Thomas. The award is sponsored by FedEx.

St. Jude is the only pediatric research center in the United States where families never pay for treatments that are not covered by insurance, and families without insurance are never asked to pay. In addition to providing medical services to eligible patients, St. Jude also assists families with transportation, lodging, and meals.

Equally accomplished in the fields of acting and philanthropy, Thomas starred in the 1966 ABC hit sitcom, "That Girl" (1966-71) in which she played Ann Marie, an up-and-coming actress and girlfriend to Donald Hollinger (played by Ted Bessell). The series was the first television show to focus on a single girl who didn’t live with her parents.

Thomas is a contributor to Web site and edits at the Huffington Post. Thomas is the recipient of four Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, a Grammy Award, a Jefferson Award, a national recognition of volunteer service, and the George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished achievement in television.


Legacy Award – 2012

THE THREE DOCTORS, Dr. Rameck Hunt, Dr. Sampson Davis and Dr. George Jenkins, grew up in Newark, New Jersey where they met each other in high school. The three grew up in public housing, were members of low-income families, and each lived in negative

home environments. During high school, the three made a pact to get through high school, college, and medical school successfully. Today, they practice medicine in their hometown of Newark. Davis works in emergency medicine at Newark’s Beth Israel Hospital, the same medical facility where he was born. Hunt is an internist, and Jenkins is a dentist who recently became the director of minority affairs at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

The trio have been motivational speakers for over a decade, and aim to spread their inspirational story to communities plagued with the adverse social conditions like they faced. Their 2008 feature-length documentary The Pact, based on their 2002 book of the same name, chronicles their story and efforts to assist other inner-city youth in their community. The documentary follows the three doctors as they navigate the minefields of community work, struggle with exhausting shifts at the hospital. In addition to The Pact, Jenkins/Davis/Hunt have also authored The Bond (2007) and a book for children, We Beat The Street (2005).

2011 Award Winners

2011 Award Winners


Hill Harper

Education Legacy Award – 2011

Harper is an alumnus of Harvard Law School and is best known for his portrayal of Dr. Sheldon Hawkes on the CBS drama television series CSI: NY.His Freedom Award recognizes his non profitfoundationManifest Your Destiny Foundation. The non-profit youth organization was established by Harper for a commitment to work in service of youth­ - to pass along the lessons he learned and to provide a foundation for young men and women to use as a launching pad to success. His fourth book, The Wealth Cure: Putting Money in its Place, was published in 2011.


Bill Russell

Sports/Community Pioneer Award – 2011

Bill Russell was honored for his participation in the Civil Rights Movement, recipient of the NBA's first Civil Rights Award and was the first African American to coach a major sport at the professional level in the US. Member of the NBA Hall of Fame who fought racism off and on the courts; Russell holds the record for the most championships won by an athlete in a North American sports league. Playing in the wake of pioneers like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, and Sweetwater Clifton, Russell was the first African American player to achieve superstar status in the NBA. For his accomplishments in the Civil Rights Movement on and off the court, Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2011.


Dolores Huerta

Icon of the Civil Rights Movement – 2011

Dolores Huerta, co-founder and First Vice President Emeritus of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO. She was with Senator Robert Kennedy moments before his assassination in Los Angeles, in 1968. She has been highly politically active, lobbying in favor of (and against) numerous California and federal laws. The laws that she supported included: A 1960 bill to permit people to take the California driver's examination in Spanish;1963 legislation to extend Aid to Families with Dependent Children to California farmworkers;The 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Act



Marva Collins

Education Pioneer Award – 2011

Collins created the Westside Preparatory School, Chicago, in 1975 with $5,000 of her teachers' pension fund. Her school took in students who were labeled as borderline learning disabled and problems. End of first school year each student scored at least 5 grades higher. Her curriculum and method is based on classical literature, abstract concepts and lofty thoughts.


Bill Frist

Humanitarian Pioneer Award – 2011

Dr. Bill Frist was honored for his work with African hospitals and schools with the group Samaritan's Purse. As a former US Senator from Tennessee he made annual visits to Africa for medical assistance and counsel and was instrumental in getting the U.S. to define the actions in Darfur as genocide. Chair of Hope Through Healing Hands, a non profit that works for child survival/maternal health, clean water, extreme poverty, and global disease such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and Malaria. Serves on the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, First Lady Michelle Obama's Partnership for a Healthier America and the Let's Move Campaign, Kaiser Family Foundation, Millennium Challenge Corporation and Africare. Recipient of the 2010 Refugees International Humanitarian Award.


Icon of the Civil Rights Movement – 2011

Rev. Ed King, worked closely with the Mississippi Movement leader Medgar Evers; was a key leader in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party with Fannie Lou Hamer. Ed King developed a passion for racial justice in Methodist youth groups. His outspoken and unwavering support of racial equality led to threats, violence, incarceration and often repudiation for his efforts.


Kirk Whalum

Arts Legacy Award – 2011

Whalum's musical accomplishments have brought him a total of seven Grammy nominations. In 2010, he was named president and CEO of the Memphis-based Soulsville Foundation, which currently funds and operates three subsidiary organizations: Stax Museum of American Soul Music; the Stax Music Academy, and The Soulsville Charter School.



Philanthropy Legacy Award – 2011

Usher Raymond IV was honored for the work of Usher's New Look Foundation. Established in 1999, the foundation certifies young people in four leadership pillars - talent, education, career and service - to ensure their success as leaders throughout the world. Usher is one of the best selling music artists of all time and has won seven Grammy Awards, four World Music Awards, six American Music Awards, and twenty-two Billboard Music Awards.

The core programs managed by New Look include the New Look Leadership Academy, Moguls In Training, Powered By Service and the World Leadership Conference. New Look has also made impacts internationally in Kenya, Haiti and Manila. There are five chapters of the foundation: Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York and Detroit.


Rev. James Lawson

Icon of the Civil Rights Movement – 2011

Rev. James Lawson, studied non violence principles of Gandhi, which became Dr. King's mantra; trained and worked with Student Non Violence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) for Freedom Riders and Sit In Movements. Lawson's students played a leading role in the Open Theater Movement, the Freedom Rides, the 1963 March on


Cicely Tyson

Arts Pioneer Award – 2011

Ms. Tyson was awarded for her stand against universal stereotypes in film and for her activism in using the world stage to raise the consciousness of our common humanity. She is considered a driving force in creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture and is a World Ambassador for UNICEF. The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts, a magnet school in East Orange, New Jersey, was renamed in her honor. She plays an active part in supporting the school, which serves one of New Jersey's most underprivileged African-American communities.


Southern Poverty Law Center

Legal Justice Legacy Award – 2011

Southern Poverty Law Center is internationally known for its tolerance education programs, legal victories against white supremacists and its tracking of hate groups, militias and extremist organizations. The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education and other forms of advocacy, they employ a three-pronged strategy to battle racial and social injustice:

  • Track the activities of hate groups and domestic terrorists across America, and launch innovative lawsuits that seek to destroy networks of radical extremists.
  • Provide educators with free resources that teach school children to reject hate, embrace diversity and respect differences.

SPLC has won many notable civil cases for plaintiffs. The SPLC does not accept government funds, or charge its clients legal fees, or share in the court-awarded judgments to them.


John Seigenthaler

Icon of the Civil Rights Movement – 2011

John Seigenthaler, served as administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy during the 1961 Freedom Riders movement, chief negotiator for the government and in 1991 founded the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. After rushing to help a Freedom Rider he was knocked unconscious by an angry mob. He is known as a prominent defender of First Amendment rights. On April 21, 1961, Seigenthaler was the only other Justice Department figure to witness a meeting between Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.


Susan L. Taylor

Activism Legacy Award – 2011

Taylor is the former editor-in-chief and editorial director for Essence Magazine for 27 years, and was the first and only African American Woman to be recognized by the Magazine Publishers of America with the Henry Johnson Fisher Award and the first to be inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors Hall of Fame. Founded the National Cares Mentoring Movement, in 2006, to recruit one million able adults to help secure children who are in peril and losing ground. Susan is a cofounder of Future PAC, the first national political action committee to provide a network of support and sources of funding for progressive African American women seeking federal and state-level political offices.


National Association for the Advancement of Colered People

Legal Justice Pioneer Award – 2011

The NAACP is the country's first and foremost civil andhuman rights organization. Since being founded in founded in 1909, the NAACP has continued to live it to its mission: to achieve racial justice, equality, and an inclusive society. One of the NAACP's greatest legal victories was in 1954, when Thurgood Marshall and a team of NAACP attorneys won Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. In this landmark decision, the Supreme Court held that segregation in public education violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Rev. C.T. Vivian

Icon of the Civil Rights Movement – 2011

Rev. C. T. Vivian, helped organize the Nashville Sit-Ins, Freedom Riders movements and the March on Washington. Later he founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference, organizing the first sit-ins there in 1960 and the first civil rights march in 1961. Rev. Vivian was a rider on the first "Freedom Bus" into Jackson, Mississippi, and went on to work along-side Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his Executive staff. During the summer following the Selma Movement, Rev. Vivian conceived and directed an educational program, Vision, and put 702 Alabama students in college with scholarships. The program later became Upward Bound.


Danny Glover
Activism Legacy Award – 2011

Glover was awarded for his support of various humanitarian and civil rights causes including the United Farm Workers. In the 1960's as a student at San Francisco State University, Glover was a member of the Black Students Union which, along with the American Federation of Teachers, collaborated in a five-month student-led strike to establish a Department of Black Studies. The strike was the longest student walkout in U.S. history. It helped create the first Department of Black Studies and the first School of Ethnic Studies in the U.S.


Leola Brown Montgomery

Icon of the Civil Rights Movement – 2011

Leola Brown Montgomery is the widow of Rev. Oliver Brown, the lead plaintiff in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case. Involved in the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research established in 1988.


Rev. Samuel Kyles

Icon of the Civil Rights Movement – 2011

Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles, worked closely with the Memphis Movement. Served on the Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom, was with Dr. King in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Kyles has maintained his involvement with civil rights work since the 1960s. He is a member of several civic and professional organizations. Featured in the Academy Award nominated documentary, “The Witness,” about the last days of Dr. King, Rev. Kyles serves as an ambassador to the National Civil Rights Museum with thousands of visitors who tour the Museum as a special speaker.

7Alonzo Mourning

Alonzo Mourning

Sports/Community Legacy Award – 2011

Alonzo Mourning was recognized for his charities which aid the development of children and families living in at risk situations. Founder of the Overtown Youth Center in Miami, Florida for the enrichment of children. Former NBA standout launched Zo's Fund for Life to raise funds for glomerulosclerosis, which he was diagnosed with during his NBA career. Co Founder of founded Athletes for Hope, a charitable organization, which helps professional athletes get involved in charitable causes and inspires millions of non-athletes to volunteer and support the community.

2010 Award Winners

2010 Award Winners


Dr. Dorothy Cotton

National Freedom Award – 2010

She once said on national television; "I'm tired of people saying, "And now we present her, who marched with Martin Luther King." Well, a lot of folk flew down there one weekend and marched, but I worked."

From 1960 to 1968, Dr. Dorothy Cotton was the Education Director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In that capacity, she worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders, directing the Citizenship Education Program (CEP). As the Education Director she was considered one of the highest ranking women with the SCLC.

On April 4, 1968 she was at the Lorraine Motel in room 307 next door to Dr. Kings' room, the day of his assassination.

Later, she served as the Vice President for Field Operations for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia where she was a leader and senior trainer for the Center in areas nonviolence and empowerment for leadership.

Under the Carter Administration, she served as the Southeastern Regional Director of ACTION, the Federal Government's agency for volunteer programs from 1978 to 1981.

From 1982 to May 1991, she was the Director of Student Activities at Cornell University.

A powerful motivating speaker, teacher and workshop facilitator, Dr. Cotton often uses the "Songs of the Movement" to help her tell the story of America's struggle for civil rights.

She accompanied Dr. King when he received the Nobel Prize for Peace in Norway. Since that time she has traveled extensively throughout the world, including visits to the former Soviet Union, The People's Republic of China, Switzerland, Africa, Vietnam, and Europe while participating in international workshops and discussions on a broad range of current social and humanitarian issues.

Dr. Cotton has designed and conducted training programs for corporations, schools, universities, government agencies and nonprofit organizations working with well over 100,000 participants. She has delivered commencement speeches and has addressed students at hundreds of colleges and universities including The University of New England and Spelman College (both of which gave her an Honorary Doctorate degree for her public work), Stanford University, The Albuquerque Academy, Brown University, City College of New Jersey and many more.


Eva Longoria Parker

Legacy Freedom Award – 2010

She has taken the phrase, more than a pretty face, and given it new energy.

She doesn't play by the Hollywood rules, and gives the Lone Star State of Texas all of her praise as her real home. Although her public persona is one of glamour, and sex appeal, her true beauty really shines when she speaks about her older sister who is developmentally challenged and is the inspiration for the work she does with young people who are developmentally challenged.

Actress Eva Longoria Parker was born in Corpus Christi, Texas and is the youngest of four daughters. Despite working on a farmland that had been handed down to them from past generations, the family often had very little money.

Eva acted in small television roles early in her career but became an international sensation from the television series Desperate Housewives.

In 2006, Longoria founded Eva's Heroes, a San Antonio, Texas charity which helps developmentally challenged children. Her older sister, Lisa, who is developmentally challenged, was the inspiration for Eva's Heroes and the work her mother did for 25 years as teachers assistant and special education teacher taught her the value of creating a learning environment for young people with challenges. Eva's Heroes provides an inclusive setting built on four tenets interact, grow, learn, and love and Eva would like for the program to be used as national model.

She is the national spokesperson for PADRES Contra El Cancer, Parents Against Cancer and also supports the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the National Stroke Association, Project HOME and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Longoria Parker is also an executive producer of Shine Global Inc.'s upcoming documentary The Harvest which is focused on the 500,000 child migrant farm workers in the U.S. and is currently helping them fundraise for the film.

Longoria was named Philanthropist of the year in 2009 by the Hollywood Reporter for her commitment to Latino causes and giving back to the community and became one of the first celebrities to launch a campaign for temporary housing for the victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2009.

Longoria Parker donated a house to one of the victims of Katrina through the Oprah Angel Network.

Longoria Parker currently works closely with The United Farm Workers (UFW), The Mexican American Legal Defense Educational Fund (MALDEF), the Dolores Huerta Foundation and The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

As the international L'Oreal spokesperson, she is a strong supporter of the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, the leading independent, non-profit organization in the United States dedicated to advancing research, raising awareness and finding a cure.

She serves on the National Museum of the American Latino Commission and received the 2010 Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Medallion of Excellence for Leadership and Community Service.


Dr. Wangari Maathai

International Freedom Award – 2010

Dr. Wangari Maathi was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. She and the Green Belt Movement have received numerous awards, most notably the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first African woman to receive the prize.

She received her doctorate degree and masters' degree in America,

and later pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, obtaining a Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi.

She became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively. In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region.

Active in the National Council of Women of Kenya and former chairman from 1981-87, she introduced the idea of community-based tree planting.

She continued to develop this idea into a broad-based grassroots organization whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting. The organization became known as the Green Belt Movement, and has assisted women in planting more than 40 million trees on community lands including farms, schools and church compounds.

Through her work at various volunteer associations, she saw that most of Kenya's problems was environmental degradation.

The Green Belt Movement carried out pro-democracy activities such as registering voters for the election and pressing for constitutional reform and freedom of expression. Her name became universal and her mission of freedom and democracy gained worldwide support.

In the early 1990's, it came to the attention of Dr. Maathai and other pro-democracy activists that a list of individuals were targeted for assassination and that a government-sponsored coup was possible.She was arrested and charged with spreading malicious rumors, sedition, and treason.

A wide variety of international organizations and eight senators (including Al Gore and Edward M. Kennedy) put pressure on Kenya to substantiate the charges against the pro-democracy activists or risk damaging relations with the United States. In November 1992, the government of Kenya dropped the charges.

Dr. Maathai campaigned for parliament in the 2002 elections and defeated the ruling party Kenya African National Union, and won with an overwhelming 98% of the vote.

In all she has been recognized and received over 23 national and international awards.

2009 Award Winners

2009 Award Winners


Myrlie Evers-Williams

National Freedom Award Recipient – 2009

Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain Mississippi NAACP Field Director Medgar Evers, was honored as the 2009 National Freedom Award recipient.

A true pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement, Medgar Evers was assassinated on June 12, 1963. Myrlie and their three small children saw the murder at the front door of their home in Jackson, Mississippi. After suffering through two hung jury trials in the murder of her husband, Mrs. Evers-Williams moved her three children to California. She did not see justice for the murder of Medgar Evers until 31 years later. But her persistence paid off and in 1994, she was present when the verdict of guilty and life imprisonment was handed down for Byron De La Beckwith.

At last, she was victorious, and her refusal to stop in the pursuit of justice for the assassination meant several similar cases were reopened and perpetrators were brought to justice in civil rights cases that had been deemed unsolved.

National Civil Rights Museum Board Chairman, Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks said, "Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams is a phenomenal woman of great strength and courage. Her hard work as the former Chairperson of the National Board of Directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) helped to establish this worthy organization back to its original place of prominence. Of course the perseverance she displayed in seeking justice for Medgar was a milestone in justice for the civil rights movement."

Former Mississippi governor and current Secretary of the U.S. Navy Ray Mabus recently fulfilled a promise to Mrs. Evers-Williams to commemorate the late Medgar Evers with the naming of a U.S. Navy cargo ship in honor of the slain civil rights leader.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama

International Freedom Award – 2009

The museum awarded the prestigious International Freedom Award to the Dalai Lama for his "steadfast commitment to protecting and defending the rights of the oppressed people of Tibet and elsewhere in the world." The museum recognizes the Dalai Lama's contributions to world peace through promotion of human values, interfaith harmony and universal responsibility. The Dalai Lama is the spiritual and temporal leader of six million Tibetans. In 1935, he was born the fifth of 16 children to a farming family in the village of Takster in the Amdo province of Tibet.

He was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama when he was two years old. In 1940, he was formally enthroned as the Dalai Lama. Ten years later, the People's Liberation Army of Chairman Mao invaded Tibet. In 1951, the Chinese military coerced a Tibetan delegation into ratifying the Seventeen-Point agreement, which permitted the People's Republic of China (PRC) to officially take over Tibet. Although the agreement specifically allowed for a high degree of autonomy for the Tibetans, Chinese control intensified and oppression continued, leading to the failed popular Tibetan uprising of 1959.

In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled across the Himalayas to safety; since then, he has lived in exile in Dharamsala, Northern India. He set up schools and settlements for the more than 150,000 refugees who have followed him into exile to live freely. Under the Dalai Lama's leadership, the exiled Tibetans have a democratically elected government-in-exile.

The Dalai Lama, who often speaks of his tremendous respect for the people and history of China, has additionally encouraged and initiated productive dialogue between the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Chinese government. However, the Chinese government has failed to respond to His Holiness's conciliatory gestures and maintains an iron-fisted rule over Tibet. An intensified crackdown by the Chinese government continues today as a result of unprecedented waves of protests held against the Chinese government in 2008 by Tibetans living across the entire Tibetan plateau. The Dalai Lama has called for an international inquiry into China's treatment of Tibet which he said amounted to "cultural genocide."

A noted public speaker and the author of numerous books, the Dalai Lama is one of the most charismatic and respected peacemakers of our times. He is the first Dalai Lama to travel to the West, and he continues his teachings and lectures to promote peace, ethics and interfaith harmony. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 2007 the United States Congressional Gold Medal. Most recently he was made an honorary citizen of the city of Paris, France. The Dalai Lama has received more than 100 major awards and honors.

Julius Erving

Legacy Freedom Award – 2009

Known as Dr. J, Julius Erving won three championships, four Most Valuable Player Awards, and three scoring titles while playing with the ABA's Virginia Squires and New York Nets and the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers. He is the fifth-highest scorer in professional basketball history, with 30,026 points (NBA and ABA combined). He is well-known for slam dunking from the free throw line in Slam Dunk Contests. Erving was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time team and in 1993 was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

His Legacy Freedom Award is for his humanitarian, business and philanthropic efforts. He was inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame as a part of the Class of 1995. Julius Erving has repeatedly been recognized for his commitment to civic issues. Some of his past awards include the Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, the Whitney M. Young Award from the Urban League and the Father Flanagan Award from Boys Town, the American Express Man of the Year Award, the Big Brothers New York City Sports Award, the David Zinkoff Memorial Sportsman of the Year Award and the National Consortium for Academics and Sports.

Erving has also served as the national chairman of the Hemophilia Foundation; the coach of the Special Olympics basketball program; the adviser to The March of Dimes; the spokesman for the Lupus Foundation, American Dental Association and Philadelphia Police Athletic League.

Erving is the president of The Erving Group, a private investment company. He also serves on the Board of Directors for several companies including Saks, Inc. and Fusion Telecommunications.

2008 Award Winners

2008 Award Winners

Film Title: An Inconvenient Truth.
Al Gore
International Freedom Award – 2008

Former United States Vice President Al Gore is cofounder and Chairman of Generation Investment Management, a firm that is focused on a new approach to sustainable investing. Gore is also cofounder and Chairman of Current TV, an independently owned cable and satellite television network for young people based on viewer-created content and citizen journalism. A member of the Board of Directors of Apple Computer, Inc. and a Senior Advisor to Google, Inc. Gore is also Visiting Professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Gore is the author of An Inconvenient Truth, a best-selling book on the threat of and solutions to global warming, and the subject of the movie of the same title, which has already become one of the top documentary films in history. In 2007, An Inconvenient Truth was awarded two Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature and Best Original Song. Since his earliest days in the U. S. Congress 30 years ago, Al Gore has been the leading advocate for confronting the threat of global warming. His pioneering efforts were outlined in his bestselling book Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit (1992). He led the Clinton-Gore Administration's efforts to protect the environment in a way that also strengthens the economy.

Al Gore was born on March 31, 1948, the son of former U.S. Senator Albert Gore, Sr. and Pauline Gore. Raised in Carthage, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., he received a degree in government with honors from Harvard University in 1969. After graduation, he volunteered for enlistment in the U.S. Army and served in the Vietnam War and later Gore moved to Nashville to work as a journalist.

Diane Nash

National Freedom Award – 2008

In 1960 at age 22, Diane Nash became the official leader of the Nashville sit-ins. Inspired by sit-ins in Greensboro, NC, the Nashville sit-ins lasted from February to May 1960 and helped desegregate lunch counters in Nashville, TN. After being arrested, Nash, with John Lewis, led the protesters in a policy of refusing to pay bail, on principle. Sentenced to pay a $50 fine for sitting at a whites-only lunch counter, Nash was chosen to represent her fellow activists when she told the judge, "We feel that if we pay these fines we would be contributing to and supporting the injustice and immoral practices that have been performed in the arrest and conviction of the defendants."

When Nash asked the mayor on the steps of City Hall, "Do you feel it is wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of their race or color?" The mayor admitted that he did and within a few weeks, six lunch counters in Nashville were serving blacks.

In April 1960 Nash helped to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and quit school to lead its direct action wing. In 1961, she took over responsibility for the Freedom Rides from Birmingham, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi. Nash also designed the strategy used by the SNCC in the Selma, Alabama "Right to Vote" campaign, and was an important organizer for the 1963 campaign in Birmingham. Nash was arrested dozens of times for her activities and spent 30 days in a South Carolina jail after protesting segregation in Rock Hill in February 1961.

In 1962, although she was four months pregnant, she was sentenced to two years in prison for teaching nonviolent tactics to children in Jackson, Mississippi, where she and husband James Bevel were living, but was released on appeal after serving a shorter term. President, John F. Kennedy, appointed her to a national committee that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King, Jr. 1961 to 1965, serving as an organizer, strategist, field staff person, race relations staff person and workshop instructor. In 1965, Martin Luther King gave the SCLC's highest award, the Rosa Parks Award, to Diane Nash and James Bevel. In 2003, Nash received the "Distinguished American Award" from the John F. Kennedy Library and Foundation, and in 2004, the LBJ Award for Leadership in Civil Rights from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.

B.B. King

Lifetime Achievement Award – 2008

B. B. King arrived in Memphis for the first time in 1946 to work as a musician, but after a few months of hardship he left, going back to Mississippi. There he decided to prepare himself better for the next visit and returned to Memphis two years later. Initially he worked at the local R&B radio channel WDIA as a singer. In 1949, he began recording songs under contract with Los Angeles-based RPM Records. Many of King's early recordings were produced by Sam Phillips, who later founded Sun Records. King was also a disc jockey in Memphis, Tennessee, where he gained the nickname "Beale Street Blues Boy", later shortened to "B. B."

In the 1950s, B. B. King became one of the most important names in R&B music, amassing an impressive list of hits. In June 2006, a groundbreaking was held for a new B. B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Mississippi. The center opened on September 13, 2008 and is dedicated to offering Delta young people hope.

The proposed educational, cultural and character development programming will take the form of classes, mentoring, interactive exhibits and B.B. King could not find in the Mississippi of his youth.

  • On December 15, 2006, President George W. Bush awarded King the Presidential
  • Medal of Freedom.
  • In 2004, he was awarded an honorary Ph.D from the University of Mississippi and the Royal Swedish Academy of Music awarded him the Polar Music Prize, for his "significant contributions to the blues".
  • King was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1990.
  • He was officially inducted 1987 into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame - King was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.
  • As of 2006, he has won 14 Grammy Awards, of which nine have been the Grammy award for Best Traditional Blues Album
  • King was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors in 1995.
2007 Award Winners

2007 Award Winners


President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

International Freedom Award – 2007

Internationally known as Africa's "Iron Lady," President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is a leading promoter of peace, justice, and democratic rule. In November 2005, she was elected President of Liberia and became the first woman to lead an African nation. The Harvard educated former World Bank economist won the election with an impressive 59.4 % of the vote.

Before her election, she worked tirelessly to bring justice to her people in Liberia and had spent more than a year in jail at the hands of the military dictatorship of General Samuel Doe. After having her life threatened by former President Charles Taylor, she campaigned relentlessly for Taylor's removal from office and played an active and supportive role in the establishing the Transitional Government of Liberia as the country prepared for elections in 2005.

President Johnson-Sirleaf had previously served as the Chairperson of the Governance Reform Commission of the National Transitional Government of Liberia until she had resigned in 2004 to accept the nomination of the Unity Party of Liberia as its Standard Bearer.

Also a presidential candidate in the 1997 Liberia general election, she finished second in the field of 13 candidates. Before that, she served for five years as Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa and was the first woman to lead the United Nations Development Project for Africa. Throughout her professional career, she served in several financial positions such as the first woman Minister of Finance for Liberia, Vice President of Citicorp, Vice President of the HSBC Equator Bank, and the Senior Loan Officer of the World Bank.

She has been awarded many special honors, including the Commander de l'Ordre du Mono of Togo (1996), the Ralph Bunche International Leadership Award of United States (1995 and 1996), the Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom Of Speech Award of the United States (1988), and the Grand Commander of the Star of African Redemption of Liberia (1980).


John Hope Franklin

National Freedom Award – 2007

John Hope Franklin is the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History, and for seven years was Professor of Legal History in the Law School at Duke University. He is a native of Oklahoma and a graduate of Fisk University. He received the A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in history from Harvard University. He has taught at a number of institutions, including Fisk University, St. Augustine's College, North Carolina Central University, and Howard University. In 1956 he went to Brooklyn College as Chairman of the Department of History; and in 1964, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, serving as Chairman of the Department of History from 1967 to 1970. At Chicago, he was the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor from 1969 to 1982, when he became Professor Emeritus.

Professor Franklin's numerous publications include The Emancipation Proclamation, The Militant South, The Free Negro in North Carolina, Reconstruction After the Civil War, and A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Ante-bellum North. Perhaps his best known book is From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans, now in its seventh edition. His Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities for 1976 was published in 1985 and received the Clarence L. Holte Literary Prize for that year. In 1990, a collection of essays covering a teaching and writing career of fifty years, was published under the title, Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988. In 1993, he published The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-first Century. Professor Franklin's most recent book, My Life and an Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin, is an autobiography of his father that he edited with his son, John Whittington Franklin. His current research deals with "Dissidents on the Plantation: Runaway Slaves."

Professor Franklin has served on many national commissions and delegations, including the National Council on the Humanities, from which he resigned in 1979, when the President appointed him to the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. Currently, Professor Franklin serves as chairman of the advisory board for One America: The President's Initiative on Race. In addition to his many awards, Dr. Franklin has received honorary degrees from more than one hundred colleges and universities.

Professor Franklin has been extensively written about in various articles and books. Most recently he was the subject of the film First Person Singular: John Hope Franklin. Produced by Lives and Legacies Films, the documentary was featured on PBS in June 1997.

His latest works Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, In search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South and Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin were all published in 2005.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson

Lifetime Achievement Award – 2007

Earvin Johnson, Jr. is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Magic Johnson Enterprises which owns and/or operates business ventures across 89 cities and 22 states. Formed in 1987, Magic Johnson Enterprises strategically invests, consults, partners and endorses opportunities and services that particularly focus on ethnically diverse urban communities.

Through Magic Johnson Enterprises (MJE), Mr. Johnson has bolstered the economy by establishing brand name businesses in underserved communities, training and hiring local residents and employing local contractors. As the only joint venture partner of Starbucks, Mr. Johnson has opened 112 stores across the country (with a commitment to open a total of 125). His real estate fund, Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, is the country's largest private real estate fund focused on the revitalization of underserved communities.

Partnerships with corporations such as Burger King help to bring quality and convenience to urban America. Mr. Johnson is one of Burger King's biggest franchisees with 31 restaurants to date in Atlanta, Birmingham, Dallas and Miami. He has also established a dozen 24 Hour Fitness Magic Sport centers. The facilities in Sherman Oaks and San Leandro, California have over 18,000 members and rank #1 and #2 in the Magic-Sport fitness chain. Additionally, Mr. Johnson has established 27 Washington Mutual Home Loan Centers, several AMC Magic Johnson Theatres and his T.G.I. Friday's restaurant in Los Angeles is the number one grossing stand alone corporate T.G.I.Friday's restaurant in the Western Division.

Magic Johnson Enterprises recently launched two new initiatives: the Magic Johnson Travel Group and SodexhoMagic, LLC. The Magic Johnson Travel Group is the first multicultural home-based travel agent initiative and franchise network. It is designed to cultivate growth in the minority travel market and develop entrepreneurs from urban America. SodexhoMagic, LLC provides an extensive portfolio of food and facilities management services as well as offers signature dining facilities. The aforementioned businesses have been at the forefront of urban development and are directly responsible for tremendous growth across the country.

In addition to his varied business accomplishments, Mr. Johnson is internationally recognized as the number one rated athlete for corporate endorsements (TSE Sports & Entertainment Survey, April 2007) and one of the most highly rated celebrities able to influence consumer purchasing power (rated 6 out of 350 according to the 2006 Davie Brown Index). He currently has endorsement partnerships with Abbott Laboratories and TNT.

As Chairman and Founder of the Magic Johnson Foundation, Inc., Mr. Johnson continues to focus on improving the quality of life for people residing in urban communities. The Foundation has distributed over 800 college scholarships to deserving minority students, many of which have been recipients of the Foundation's Taylor Michaels Scholarship Program. To help bridge the digital divide in minority communities, Mr. Johnson currently has 23 Magic Johnson Empowerment Centers. The Foundation also has established four HIV/AIDS clinics and continues to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS through programs such as the "I Stand With Magic" campaign to end HIV/AIDS in the black community.

Mr. Johnson is universally known for his 13 year career in the NBA. His honors include: five national championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, 3 MVP awards, 12 NBA All-Star games, a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain and induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

2006 Award Winners

2006 Award Winners

Foreign Ministers Meeting at NATO Headquarters in Brussels - Press Point Bernard Kouchner (Minister of Foreign Affairs, France)
Dr. Bernard Kouchner

International Freedom Award – 2006

Dr. Bernard Kouchner (France) - Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the head of the U Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo; Founder of Doctors Without Borders Founder, organizer and President of Medecins sans Frontieres, Dr. Kouchner was France's Minister of Health until picked by Secretary-General Kofi Annan as his Special Representative for Kosovo.

In the humanitarian field, Dr. Kouchner founded Medecins sans Frontieres, a Paris-based non-profit humanitarian organization made up of voluntary medical personnel who contribute their time and expertise in assisting in situations of emergency or inadequate medical care in the developing world. In that capacity he traveled extensively in all the troubled areas of the world. He organized humanitarian operations to Somalia, El Salvador, Lebanon and Viet Nam. In addition to those countries, his humanitarian assignments took him to Cambodia, Thailand, Uruguay, Peru, Guatemala and Honduras.

Dr. Kouchner has played an important role on the French political scene for the past 20 years, holding a number of ministerial positions in different French Governments. Most recently he served as France's Minister of Health, and before that as Minister of State for Humanitarian Action (1988-1991) and Minister of State for Social Integration (1988).

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international independent medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural or man-made disasters, or exclusion from health care in more than 70 countries. A private nonprofit association, MSF is an international network with sections in 19 countries.

MSF was founded in 1971 by a small group of French doctors who believed that all people have the right to medical care and that the needs of these people supersede respect for national borders. It was the first non-governmental organization to both provide emergency medical assistance and publicly bear witness to the plight of the populations they served

Each year, MSF doctors, nurses, logisticians, water-and-sanitation experts, administrators, and other medical and non-medical professionals depart on more than 3,800 field assignments. They work alongside more than 22,500 locally hired staff to provide medical care. He was the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Rev. Joseph Lowery

National Fredom Award – 2006

Dr. Joseph Lowery, considered the dean of the civil rights movement. Lowery began his work with civil rights in the early 1950s in Mobile, Alabama, where he headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, an organization devoted to the desegregation of buses and public places. During this time, the state of Alabama sued Lowery, along with several other prominent ministers, on charges of libel, seizing his property.

The Supreme Court sided with the ministers, and Lowery's seized property was returned. In 1957, Lowery and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and Lowery was named vice president.

Lowery is a co-founder and former president of the Black Leadership Forum, a consortium of black advocacy groups. The Forum began protesting apartheid in South Africa in the mid-1970s and continued until the election of Nelson Mandela.

Historical Accomplishments:

  • In 1965, was named chairman of the delegation to take demands of the Selma to Montgomery March to Alabama's governor at the time, George Wallace.
  • After becoming president of the SCLC in February of 1977, Lowery negotiated covenants with major corporations for employment advances, opportunities and business contracts with minority companies.
  • Led peace delegations to the Middle East and Central America
    • Lowery's efforts to combat injustice and promote equal opportunities has led to the extension of provisions to the Voting Rights Act to 2007, the desegregation of public accommodations in Nashville, Tennessee and the hiring of Birmingham, Alabama's first black police officers
    • Received an NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Received the National Urban League's Whitney M. Young, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.


Stevie Wonder

Lifetime Achievement Award – 2006

Blind since birth, Stevie Wonder signed a contract at age 11 with Motown Records and began turning out hit songs under the name "Little Stevie Wonder."

A multi-instrumentalist, Wonder plays the drums, congas, bass guitar, organ and most famously the piano, keyboards and harmonica. Critics and colleagues have referred to the quality of Wonder's work and its versatility as being indicative of musical genius.

His contribution to worldwide social and political change, including his leadership in championing the effort to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday, as well as becoming a driving force behind 1985′s USA For Africa campaign, has set Stevie Wonder apart from the masses of entertainers. Stevie Wonder has remained one of the world's most profound and influential artists.

Honored at the 22nd Kennedy Center Honors in 1999, President Clinton remarked: "In so many ways (Wonder) has helped to compose the remaining passages of Dr. King's legacy."

Winner of 22 Grammys and the prestigious Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, with more than 100 million records sold, Wonder's received hundreds of honors and awards throughout his career.

  • US Distinguished Service Award
  • 1999 MusiCares Person of the Year
  • Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards Lifetime Achievement
  • NAACP Image Award
  • United in Recovery's Ambassador of Peace Award
  • ASCAP Founders Award
  • Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame
  • NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award

A tireless humanitarian and champion for political and social justice, Wonder was the preeminent force involved in:

  • The Martin Luther King holiday
  • As a valiant warrior against South African Apartheid, arrested in 1985 during a protest at the SA Embassy
  • USA For Africa, as well as helping to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic and the scourge of Apartheid in South Africa.
  • Leading figure in the "Charge Against Hunger" in conjunction with American Express, which raised over $150 million dollars to feed nearly six million underprivileged people yearly.

Wonder once again reveals his humanitarian side on A Time To Love, with the uplifting "Shelter In The Rain," a fitting ode of healing for victims and survivors of the devastating gulf coast hurricanes. Net proceeds from the song are going to his charity organization The Wonder Foundation, which is earmarking the donations for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

2005 Award Winners

2005 Award Winners

Paul Ruseseabagina

International Freedom Award – 2005

Ten years ago, as the country of Rwanda descended into madness, one man made a promise to protect the family he loved and ended up finding the courage to save over 1200 people.

Over the course of 100 days, almost one million people were killed in Rwanda. For the 100 days of the genocide, Rusesabagina had to move back to the Mille Collines Hotel. His colleague Bik, manager of that unit, left Kigali on April 11, 1994, despite the number of refugees still left on their own.

It was the next morning, when the government (Interim Government) left Kigali for Gitarama. Rusesabagina was there for almost the entire span of the genocide. When the massacre slightly calmed down, in July 1994, Bik came back and joined his unit, and Rusesabagina went back to the Diplomate Hotel where he stayed until September 1996, after which he went to Belgium as a refugee.

From that time to date, Rusesabagina has worked as a businessman and owns a transport company.

Hotel Rwanda, nominated for three Academy Awards, tells the inspiring story of real-life hero Paul Rusesabagina, who is portrayed in the film by Don Cheadle, a hotel manager in Rwanda who used his courage to shelter over a thousand refugees from certain death.

Rusesabagina is also still involved in charitable organizations aiding survivors of the Rwandan tragedy and has set up the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation to help the relief effort.


Oprah Winfrey

National Freedom Award – 2005

Through the power of media, Oprah Winfrey has created an unparalleled connection with people around the world. As supervising producer and host of the top-rated The Oprah Winfrey Show, she has entertained, enlightened and uplifted millions of viewers for the past two decades. Her show reaches an estimated 49 million U.S. viewers a week and is broadcast internationally in 117 countries. Over the years, she and her show have been honored with the most prestigious awards in broadcasting, receiving more than 40 Daytime Emmy Awards, including the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' first ever Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2002.

In 2000, she launched O, The Oprah Magazine, a monthly magazine that has become one of today's leading women's lifestyle publications. She brought her "Live Your Best Life" message to a broader audience in 2002 with the first international edition of her magazine in South Africa.

Her website,, which attracts three million users per month, provides exclusive interactive content related to her show and magazine and features Oprah's Book Club, the largest book club in the world with more than 670,000 members.

In 1998, she established Oprah's Angel Network, a public charity based on an initiative from The Oprah Winfrey Show to encourage people around the world to use their lives to make a difference in the lives of others. Oprah's Angel Network has raised more than $35 million to help establish scholarships and schools, support women's shelters and build youth centers and homes—changing the future for people all over the world.

Her commitment to children led her to initiate the National Child Protection Act in 1991, when she testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to establish a national database of convicted child abusers. On December 20, 1993, President Clinton signed the national "Oprah Bill" into law. This year, she initiated "Oprah's Child Predator Watch List," through her show and website, to help track down accused child molesters. Within the first 48 hours, two of the featured men were captured. She intends to mobilize parents state by state to help change the laws for sentencing of child abusers across the nation.

Through her private charity, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, she has been committed to empowering women, children and families by furthering education and welfare for low-opportunity communities in the United States and around the world. Her foundation provides teacher education and scholarships to students who are determined to use their education to give back to their communities in the U.S. and abroad. It also has developed schools to educate thousands of underserved children internationally.

In December 2002, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation expanded its global humanitarian efforts with her ChristmasKindness South Africa 2002 initiative thatincluded visits to orphanages and rural schools in South Africa where 50,000 children received gifts of food, clothing, athletic shoes, school supplies, books and toys. Sixty-three rural schools received libraries and teacher education. Presently, her foundation is building Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls - South Africa, which will open in 2007. The Academy will provide quality education with a strong focus on academic excellence and leadership for rural and urban students who have merit but no means. Her vision is that the Academy will develop the future women leaders of South Africa.

Her accomplishments as a television pioneer, producer, editorial director and philanthropist have established her as one of the most respected and admired public figures today.


Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis

Lifetime Achievement Award – 2005

Since meeting on Broadway in the 1946 production of Jeb, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis excelled as individuals (they married in 1948), and as collaborators they often broke new ground for African Americans. They made their film debuts in 1950 in No Way Out with Sidney Poitier, then starred together on Broadway in A Raisin in the Sun. As close friends of Martin Luther King Jr., they served as masters of ceremonies for the historic 1963 March on Washington. They were one of the most revered couples of the American stage, two of the most prolific and fearless artists in American culture.

Ruby Dee has appeared in more than 20 films, and her notable stage appearances include roles in A Raisin in the Sun (she later reprised her performance as Ruth in the 1961 film), and Genet's The Balcony. Her acting has been honored with an Obie Award in 1971 for her performance in Athol Fugard's Boesman and Lena, a Drama Desk Award in 1972 for her role in Wedding Band, an Emmy Award for NBC's Decoration Day, and an Ace Award for her ground-braking performance as Mary Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night.

Ossie Davis had a career as a playwright, screenwriter, director, producer and actor, spanned more than half a century. He wrote and directed films (1970′s Cotton Comes to Harlem); plays (including 1961′s controversial exploration of segregation, Purlie Victorious, and the book for its musical adaptation, Purlie!); and television films (For Us the Living: The Story of Medgar Evers). One of his books for young people, Escape to Freedom, won the Jane Addam's Children's Book Award.

His films include The Cardinal, The Hill, The Scalphunters, Grumpy Old Men, Dr. Dolittle and The Client. On stage he gave memorable performances in No Time for Sergeants, The Wisteria Trees, Green Pastures, Jamaica, Ballad for Bimshire, The Zulu and the Zayda and I'm Not Rappaport.

Dee and Davis risked their careers resisting McCarthyism. They were arrested in 1999, for protesting the killing in New York of Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant. Together, they joined the lawsuit in federal court for black voting rights, and spoke out for citizen involvement in democracy and in support of sickle cell disease research.

Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis were celebrated as "national treasures" when they received the National Medal of Arts in 1995. In 2000, they were presented with the Screen Actors Guild's highest honor, the Life Achievement Award. They received the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle Award in 1994 and are inductees in the Theater Hall of Fame and the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame. In 2004, they were selected as recipients of the Kennedy Center honors. Ossie Davis died February 4, 2005 at the age of 87, while on location filming a movie.

2004 Award Winners

2004 Award Winners


National Freedom Award – 2004

"Early morning, April 4; Shot rings out in the Memphis sky Free at last, they took your life; They could not take your pride In the name of love; What more in the name of love?…"

"Pride (In the Name of Love)" U2 lyrics in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bono's success with U2 has made him famous worldwide, and now he uses his rock star status to make a difference in the lives of millions.

In 2002, Bono co-founded an organization called DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa— to raise public awareness of these issues, and put pressure on rich governments to increase resources for Africa and improve policies which impact African countries. DATA also works to improve democracy, accountability and transparency.

Bono first became involved in issues affecting Africa as part of the Live Aid response to the Ethiopian famine in 1984. He has actively supported Amnesty, Greenpeace and Jubilee 2000 ‘Drop the Debt' movement. Bono's intensive lobbying of politicians helped force a promise from wealthy nations to cancel $100 billion worth of poor countries' debt.

In May 2002, he traveled to Africa with the then Secretary of the US Treasury Paul O'Neill, and in December 2002 he toured churches, campuses and town halls with African AIDS activists across America's Midwest.

The New York Times cited Bono's work as one of the reasons why President Bush promised nearly $30 billion more over five years to fight AIDS and poverty.

In 2004, this promise resulted in the largest increase in US foreign assistance in 40 years.

More recently, Bono has been campaigning for a greater worldwide response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic devastating Africa.

Bono's Passion for Change is driven by the following:

The AIDS Crisis —More than 17 million Africans have died from AIDS and another 30 million are infected with the HIV virus, approximately 1.5 million are children.

The Debt Crisis — Many countries in Africa spend more each year on repaying debts to the world's richest countries and international institutions than on health care or education.

The Trade Crisis — Africans want to trade their way out of poverty- but at the moment, the way international rules are set, they can't.

The Development Assistance Crisis — Millions of people in Africa depend on financial support from wealthy governments, the United Nations, and private philanthropy to provide basic necessities they cannot afford, for example- clean water, health care, textbooks and food.

Along with the rest of the group U2, Bono has won numerous awards for music including14 Grammy's and 12 MTV Awards. Grammy Awards include: 2001: "Beautiful Day" wins in three categories: Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

2002: Record of the Year ("Walk On"), Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal ("Stuck In a Moment"), Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal ("Elevation"), and Best Rock Album (All That You Can't Leave Behind)

Bono lives in Dublin, Ireland, with his wife Ali and four children.


Congressman John Lewis

National Freedom Award – 2004

Described as "one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced," John Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights and securing personal dignity and building what he calls "The Beloved Community."

He has displayed a sense of ethics and morality that has won him the admiration of many of his colleagues in the United States Congress.

John Lewis was born the son of sharecroppers on February 21, 1940 outside of Troy, Alabama. He grew up on his family's farm and attended segregated public schools in Pike County, Alabama. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University; and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee.

He has also been awarded numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities throughout the United States, including Clark Atlanta University, Duke University, Howard University, Brandeis University, Columbia University, Fisk University, Morehouse College, Princeton University and Williams College.

The recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize and the NAACP Spingarn Medal, the John F. Kennedy "Profile in Courage Award" for lifetime achievement and the National Education Association Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award.

In 1961, he participated in the Freedom - Rides , which were organized to challenge segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. Lewis risked his life and was beaten severely by mobs for participating in the Rides.

During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, from 1963 to 1966, Lewis was the Chairman of the Student Non violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. SNCC was largely responsible for the sit-ins and other activities of students in the struggle for civil rights.

By 1963, he was recognized as one of the " Big Six" leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, joining Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer and Roy Wilkins.

John Lewis' Passion for Change included historical involvement and participation in the following civil rights events:

  • "March on Washington " in August 1963; at the age of 23, was one of the planners and a keynote speaker
  • 1964, John Lewis coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voters' registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer ."
  • 1965 Lewis led one of the most dramatic non-violent protests of the Movement. Along with fellow activist, Hosea Williams, John Lewis led over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7. Alabama state troopers attacked the marchers in a confrontation that became known as "Bloody Sunday." That march and the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama march, led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 .
  • 1966, as the Director of the Voter Education Project (VEP), transformed the nation's political climate by adding nearly four million minorities to the voter rolls.
  • 1977, appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency
  • 1981, elected to the Atlanta City Council.
  • Elected to Congress in November 1986, Lewis represents Georgia's Fifth Congressional District.
  • 1996, John Lewis was unopposed in his bid for a sixth term and is currently serving his ninth term in office.
  • 2003, directed successful House passage of a bill authorizing the creation of the first National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. The museum will be built on or adjacent to the National Mall, and a part of the Smithsonian Institution, establishes the only national institution devoted to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture.

Despite more that 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence.

In the 108th Congress, he is a member of the House Budget Committee and House Ways and Means Committee, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Committee to Support Writers and Journalists, and Co-Chair of the Faith and Politics Institute. Congressman Lewis and his wife have one son, John Miles Lewis.

2003 Award Winners

2003 Award Winners

Maxine Smith

National Freedom Award – 2003

Maxine A. Smith has a long list of accomplishments since the late 1950's and early 1960's. Following rejection by Memphis State University, based solely on race, she became a volunteer for the Memphis Branch NAACP. She was named Executive Secretary in April 1962. Mrs. Smith coordinated the major movements of that period that destroyed the walls of legal segregation, including the sit-in movement of the late 1960's that opened all private and public facilities to Blacks. She worked on the coordinating committee of the 1968 Sanitation Strike as well as the school boycotts of 1969, which led to the first Black Superintendent of Memphis City Schools.

The Memphis Branch, the south's largest, flourished under Mrs. Smith's guidance. For 32 years during her 33-year tenure as Executive Secretary, this Branch received the Thalheimer Award, the NAACP's top national award, as one of the nation's outstanding NAACP Branches. Similarly, the Memphis Branch annually received the highest state and regional awards.

Mrs. Smith has personally received over 160 awards and citations. Included among them are:

  • One of five cited by National NAACP for Outstanding NAACP Leadership
  • Outstanding Alumnae Awards by both of her undergraduate (Spelman College) and graduate schools (Middlebury College)
  • National Education Association's Whitney H. Young, Jr. Memorial Award
  • Bill of Rights Award - American Civil Liberties Union
  • Black Woman of the Year- Grambling University
  • Humanitarian of the Year Award - National Conference of Christian Jews
  • Living Legacy Award by her national sorority, Delta Sigma Theta

In October 1997, Mrs. Smith was the recipient of the Annual Richard H. Green Award, the most prestigious honor in urban education, presented by the Council of The Great City Schools.

She is a member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the National Civil Rights Museum. She was appointed by the Governor of Tennessee to the Board of Regents and is a member of the National Board of Directors NAACP and National Board of Trustees NAACP's Special Contribution Fund, National Kidney Foundation (NKF) Women's Foundation for Greater Memphis, the Memphis/Shelby County Crime Commission, Chairperson, NAACP National Education Committee; Chairperson NAACP National Sub-Committee on Membership.

President Bill Clinton

International Freedom Award – 2003

Founder, William Jefferson Clinton Foundation; Co-Chair with Nelson Mandela, International AIDS Trust; Co-Chair with Senator Robert Dole, Families of Freedom Fund; President of the United States 1993-2001; Governor of Arkansas 1979-1981, 1983-1992.

William Jefferson Clinton was elected President of the United States in 1992, and again in 1996—the first Democratic president to be awarded a second term in six decades. Under his leadership, the United States enjoyed the strongest economy in a generation and the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.


President Clinton's core values of building community, creating opportunity, and demanding responsibility resulted in unprecedented progress for America, including:

  • Moving the nation from record deficits to record surpluses
  • Creation of over 22 million jobs—more than any other administration
  • Low levels of unemployment, poverty and crime
  • Highest homeownership and college enrollment rates in history
  • Increasing the minimum wage for the first time in 6 years for 10 million workers
  • Brady Act signed-created a five day waiting period and background check before the purchase of a handgun
  • In 1998, for the first time since 1969- the federal government has a budget surplus

His accomplishments as president include passage of the Crime Bill that added 100,000 new community police officers to the streets, banned assault weapons and included the first federal effort to address domestic violence, the Violence Against Women Act.

The Clinton Administration publicly committed to have a senior cabinet which reflected America, and appointed more African Americans and women to senior cabinets in the history of the presidency.


  • 1993- North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ratified to allow trade between the US, Canada and Mexico. 400,000 jobs were created in the manufacturing sector.
  • 1995- a major Bosnian peace settlement ended the largest campaign of force in the history of NATO's existence. U. S. troops were sent to Bosnia to enforce the peace agreement.
  • 1998- President Clinton hosted the Middle East summit for continued work on the Middle East peace process.
  • 1998- President Clinton has major role in the Good Friday Peace Accord between Catholic and Protestant leaders in Northern Ireland and the Wye River Memorandum between Benjamin Netanyahu and Yassir Arafat.

Currently, President Clinton serves as Advisory Board Co-Chair with President Nelson Mandela of the International AIDS Trust and as Co-Chair with Senator Dole of the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund, which was created to provide educational assistance for postsecondary study to children and spouses of those killed or permanently disabled as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Recently, this scholarship fund achieved its fundraising goal of $100 million.

CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL FOUNDATION The mission of the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation is to strengthen the capacity of people in the United States and throughout the world to meet the challenges of global interdependence. To accomplish this mission, the Foundation is currently focused on three critical areas:

  • economic empowerment of poor people
  • racial, ethnic and religious reconciliation
  • citizen service

The former president has encouraged research, dialogue and action to help charitable organizations throughout the world attract millions of dollars for causes like racial reconciliation, health care for the poor and human rights.

The William J. Clinton Foundation activities also include co-convening the international conference, Islam and America in a Global World, with New York University School of Law and the Georgetown Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding; helping to establish and guide the activities of the American India Foundation is to rebuild the communities devastated by the earthquake in Gujarat; launching, in cooperation with Nelson Mandela and City Year (a service corps organization), a program that joins black and white South African youth in service to their communities and country; developing initiatives with economist Hernando de Soto aimed at replicating de Soto's success in Peru in bringing poor people's businesses and homes into legal property systems to be used as collateral for credit; working with the Robin Hood Foundation to promote the Earned Income Tax Credit program in New York City's African American and Latino communities; partnering with VH-1 Save the Music to bring financial and music education to public schools in Harlem and across the country; and creating with City Year the Clinton Democracy Fellowship Program, which brings young leaders together from around the world to learn about citizen service.

2002 Award Winners

2002 Award Winners

Rigoberta Menchu

International Freedom Award – 2002

Rigoberta Menchú was born on January 9, 1959 to a poor Indian family and raised in the Quiche branch of the Mayan culture. In her early years she helped with the family farm work, either in the northern highlands where her family lived, or on the Pacific coast, where both adults and children went to pick coffee on the big plantations.

Rigoberta Menchú soon became involved in social reform activities through the Catholic Church, and became prominent in the women's right movement when still only a teenager. Such reform work aroused considerable opposition in influential circles; especially after a guerilla organization established itself in the area. The Menchú family was accused on taking part in guerilla activities and Rigoberta's father, Vincente, was imprisoned and tortured for allegedly having participated in the execution of a local plantation owner. After his release, he joined the recently founded Committee of the Peasant Union (CUC).

In 1979, Rigoberta, too, joined the CUC. That year her brother was arrested, tortured and killed by the army. The following year, he father was killed when security forces in the capital stormed the Spanish Embassy where he and some other peasants were staying. Shortly afterwards, her mother also died after having been arrested, tortured and raped. Rigoberta became increasingly active in the CUC, and taught herself Spanish as well as other Mayan languages than her native Quichesant population.

In 1981, Rigoberta Menchú had to go into hiding in Guatemala, and then flee to Mexico. That marked the beginning of a new phase in her life: as the organizer aboard of resistance to oppression in Guatemala and the struggle for Indian peoples' rights. In 1982, she took part in the founding of the joint opposition body, The United Representation of the Guatemalan Opposition (RUOG). In 1983, she told her life story to Elisabeth Burgos Debray. The resulting book, called in English I, Rigoberta Menchú, is a gripping Human document, which attracted considerable international attention. In 1986, Rigoberta Menchú became a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the CUC, and the following year she performed as the narrator in the powerful film When the Mountains Tremble, about the struggles and sufferings of the Maya people. On at least three occasions, Rigoberta Menchú has returned to Guatemala to plead the cause of the Indian peasants, but death threats have forced her to return into exile.

Over the years, Rigoberta Menchú has become widely known as a leading advocate of Indian rights and ethno-cultural reconciliation, not only in Guatemala but in the Western Hemisphere generally, and her work has earned her several international awards including the Nobel Peace Prize bestowed to her in 1992.

Julian Bond

National Freedom Award – 2002

From his student days as a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to his current position as Chairman of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP), Julian Bond has been a leader in the movements for civil rights, economic justice, and peace. As an activist who has faced jail for his convictions, as a veteran of more than 20 years of service in the Georgia General Assembly, as writer and lecturer, and as a university professor, he has been on the cutting edge of social change since 1960.

Bond was a founder of Atlanta's student sit-in and anti-segregation organization while a student at Morehouse College, as well as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). As SNCC's Communications Director, Bond was active in protests and registration campaigns throughout the South.

Elected in 1965 to the Georgia House of Representatives, Bond was prevented from taking his seat by members who objected to his opposition to the Vietnam War. He was re-elected to his own vacant seat and unseated again, and seated only after a third election and a unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court.

He was co-chair of a challenge delegation from Georgia to the 1968 Democratic Convention. The challengers were successful in unseating Georgia's regular Democrats, and Bond was nominated for Vice President but had to decline because he was too young.

In the Georgia Senate, Bond became the first black chair of the Fulton County Delegation, the largest and most diverse in the upper house, and chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee. During his legislative tenure, he was sponsor and/or co-sponsor of more than 60 bills which became law.

Bond is a commentator on America's Black Forum, the oldest black-owned show in television syndication. His poetry and articles have appeared in numerous publications. He has narrated numerous documentaries, including the Academy Award-winning A Time For Justice and the prize-winning and critically acclaimed series Eyes on the Prize.

As Chairman of the NAACP Board, Bond heads the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the country. The holder of twenty honorary degrees, he is a Distinguished Professor at American University in Washington, D.C., and a Professor in history at the University of Virginia.

2001 Award Winners

2001 Award Winners

Oscar Arias

International Freedom Award – 2001

When Oscar Arias was elected president of Costa Rica in 1986, Central America was a region of great discord. Civil War in Guatemala had claimed one hundred thousand lives; government and rebel forces in Nicaragua and El Salvador trapped civilian populations in their cross-fire; Honduras and Costa Rica faced an increasing threat of involvement in the conflicts. Yet in the face of these threats, Arias intensified his efforts to promote peace. On the very day of his inauguration Dr. Arias began negotiating for peace by bringing together the Presidents of nine Latin American countries. This was the first of several historic meetings, which eventually resulted in what is widely known as the Arias Peace Plan. Drafted in 1987, the plan called for internal dialogue, cease-fire, freedom of speech, and free elections in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. It also called on the superpowers to stop aiding the insurgent forces and instead to promote peace. This initiative culminated in the signing of the Esquipulas II Accords, or the Procedure to Establish a Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America, by all the Central American Presidents on August 7, 1987.

In that same year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1988, Arias used the monetary award from the Nobel Peace Prize to establish the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress. Under the auspices of the Foundation, three programs were established; the Center for Human Progress to promote equal opportunities for women and gender equality; the Center for Organized Participation to strengthen the participation and action of civil society in Central America; and the Center for Peace and Reconciliation to work for demilitarization and conflict resolution the developing world.

Since the conclusion of his term of office in 1990, he has continued to be a "man of the people" promoting such innovative ideas as human development, global governance, and human security. For him, human security is a matter of human dignity. "It is a child who does not die, a disease that does not spread, an ethnic tension that does not explode, a dissident who is not silenced, a human spirit that is not crushed."

An unequivocal example of this solidarity is shown in Dr. Arias' commitment to curtail the global arms trade. On May 29, 1997, he met with seven other Nobel Peace laureates to publicly unveil the International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers. Dr. Arias' proposal stipulates that any country wishing to purchase arms must meet certain criteria, including the promotion of democracy, the protection of human rights, and the transparency in military spending. It would also prohibit arms sales to nations that support terrorism and to states that are engaged in aggression against other nations or peoples. In addition to the Code, Dr. Arias encourages preventive diplomacy to avert regional arms races and conflict. He strongly advocated the Year 2000 Campaign to Redirect World Military Spending to Human Development, which calls upon the United Nations to send special envoys to different sites of potential international conflict.

Sidney Poitier

National Freedom Award – 2001

Sidney Poitier was an avid supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, eagerly available to raise funds for various civil rights organizations. He joined other actors who marched with Dr. King in 1963 at the March of Washington. He campaigned for the Progressive Labor Party, which fought for the Bahamas' Independence from Britain in 1967. In 1969, he was the founder of the First Arts Production Company and worked to increase employment opportunities for African Americans in the film industry.

"In 1964 I was awarded the Oscar for best actor for my performance in Lilies of the Fields, the first African American so honored. Did I say to myself, this country is waking up and beginning to recognize that certain changes is inevitable? No I did not. I knew that we hadn't overcome, because I was still the only one."

Poitier has received lifetime achievement awards from the American Film Institute, the Kennedy Center and the Screen Actors Guild. In 1997 he was appointed Bahamian Ambassador to Japan. In 1968, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II knighted him for excellence in the arts. He is the author of two autobiographies, This Life and The Measure of A Man.


  • Born: 1927 in Miami; raised on Cat Island in the Bahamas until age 15 Working full time supporting his family at age 13
  • Early years: Arrived in New York at age 16, with $3 Served in the Army for World War II
  • Early theater: Accepted into the American Negro Theater 1946
  • First major role: No Way Out 1950, age 22

Filmography (partial listing)

  • Blackboard Jungle, 1955
  • Edge of the City, 1957
  • The Defiant Ones, 1958, nominated for Academy Award?Porgy and Bess, 1959
  • All the Young Men, 1960
  • A Raisin in the Sun and Paris Blues, 1961
  • Pressure Point, 1962
  • Lilies of the Field, 1963, Academy Award Leading Actor
  • Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, To Sir with Love, In the Heat of the Night, 1967
  • A Patch of Blue, 1966
  • For the Love of Ivy, 1968
  • They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, 1970T
  • The Organization, 1971
  • Buck and the Preacher, 1972
  • Brother John, 1973
  • Uptown Saturday Night, 1974L
  • Let's Do It Again, and A Warm December, 1975
  • A Piece of the Action, 1977
  • Stir Crazy (Director) 1980
  • Hanky Panky (Director) 1982
  • Fast Forward (Director) 1985
  • Shoot to Kill, and Little Nikita, 1988
  • Ghost Dad, 1990?Sneakers, 1992

Awards and Recognitions

  • 1992, American Film Institute Life Achievement Award
  • 1997, Ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan
  • 1998, Member of the Board of Directors of the Walt Disney Company
  • 2000, Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award

Book Author, " This Life", "Measure of A Man"

2000 Award Winners

2000 Award Winners


President Nelson Mandela

International Freedom Award – 2000

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa on July 25,1918. His father was Chief Henry Mandela of the Tembu Tribe. Mandela himself was educated at University College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand and qualified in law in 1942. He joined the African National Congress in 1944 and was engaged in resistance against the ruling National Party's apartheid policies after 1948. He went on trial for treason in 1956-1961 and was acquitted in 1961.

After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Nelson Mandela argued for the setting up of a military wing within the ANC. In June 1961, the ANC executive considered his proposal on the use of violent tactics and agreed that those members who wished to involve themselves in Mandela's campaign would not be stopped from doing so by the ANC. This led to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment with hard labor. In 1963, when many fellow leaders of the ANC and the Umkhonto we Sizwe were arrested, Mandela was brought to stand trial with them for plotting to overthrow the government by violence. His statement from the dock received considerable international publicity. On June 12, 1964, eight of the accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment. From 1964 to 1982, he was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town; thereafter, he was at Pollsmoor Prison, nearby on the mainland.

During his years in prison, Nelson Mandela's reputation grew steadily. He was widely accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa and became a potent symbol of resistance as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength. He consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom.

Nelson Mandela was released on February 18, 1990. After his release, he plunged himself wholeheartedly into his life's work, striving to attain the goals he and others had set out almost four decades earlier. In 1991, at the first national conference of the ANC held inside South Africa after the organization had been banned in 1960, Mandela was elected President of the ANC while his lifelong friend and colleague, Oliver Tambo, became the organization's National Chairperson.

In 1993, Mandela was honored for his fortitude with the Nobel Peace Prize. The following year, he became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Today, Nelson Mandela continues his work to promote the cause of freedom and equality. He continues a rigorous schedule of speaking engagements to help people understand the need for equality and freedom worldwide.

1999 Award Winners

1999 Award Winners

Harry Belafonte

National Freedom Award – 1999

Harold George Belafonte (Harry) born March 1, 1927, in New York, NY, is an African American singer, actor, producer, and activist, who has used his position as an entertainer to promote human rights worldwide.

Harry Belafonte may be best known to American audiences as the singer of the "Banana Boat Song" (known popularly as "Day-O"), but it is his commitment to political causes that inspired scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s comment, "Harry Belafonte was radical long before it was chic and remained so long after it wasn't." Harold George Belafonte was born in Harlem, New York to West Indian parents. The family moved to Jamaica in 1935 but returned five years later. Struggling with dyslexia, Belafonte dropped out of high school after the ninth grade and, at the age of 17, joined the U.S. Navy. Although the work was menial — scrubbing the decks of ships in port during World War II — naval service introduced Belafonte to African Americans who awakened Belafonte's political consciousness and introduced him to the works of radical black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois.

In 1948 Belafonte settled in New York City, and, after working a variety of odd jobs, found a calling in acting. As a member of the American Negro Theatre in Harlem, he earned his first leading role in Juno and the Paycock and met Paul Robeson, his hero, and Sidney Poitier, who became his life-long friend. Belafonte's performance as the only black member of the cast of John Murray Anderson's Almanac earned him a Tony award in 1953. A year later, he starred with Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones, a movie remake of Bizet's opera that brought widespread attention to Belafonte's good looks. His other early films include Island in the Sun (1957) and The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959). In addition, for his work in "Tonight with Belafonte," in 1960 he became the first African American to receive an Emmy award.

As Belafonte began to achieve success as an actor, he stumbled into the singing career that made him one of the most popular entertainers of the late 1950s. In 1949, a performance at an amateur night at the Royal Roost nightclub in New York led to an RCA recording contract. Belafonte's 1956 album Calypso became the first record to sell more than a million copies and started a craze for his husky voice and for the infectious rhythm of such songs as "Matilda," "Brown Skin Girl," and "Jamaica Farewell." To critics who charged that a singer who had never visited Trinidad could not claim to know calypso, Belafonte offered no apologies. Not only did he make his version of Caribbean music accessible to a mainstream American audience but in the dozens of albums that followed Calypso, he also performed songs such as "Cotton Fields" that conveyed the pain of the black African American experience.

Belafonte's appeal to white audiences did not, however, protect him from racial segregation. As a result, he refused to perform in the South from 1954 until 1961, and he became deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1956 Belafonte met Martin Luther King Jr., in Montgomery, Alabama, and they quickly became close friends. Belafonte was also a friend of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and frequently served as a liaison between King and policymakers in Washington, D.C. It was Belafonte who sent the money to bail King out of the Birmingham City Jail and who raised thousands of dollars to release other jailed protesters, financed the Freedom Rides, and supported voter-registration drives. He joined Bayard Rustin in leading the youth march for integrated schools from New York to Washington, D.C, in 1958 and helped to organize the March on Washington five years later.

Belafonte continues to use his power as an entertainer in the struggle for civil rights. His production company, Harbel, formed in 1959, produces movies and television shows by and about black Americans. Belafonte's idea for the hit song "We Are the World" generated more than 70 million dollars to fight famine in Ethiopia in 1985. Two years later, he became the second American to be named UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. A long-time antiapartheid activist, Belafonte recorded an album of South African music, Paradise in Gazankulu, in 1988 and chaired the welcoming committee for Nelson Mandela's visit to the United States.

President Lech Walesa

International Freedom Award – 1999

Lech Walesa was born on September 29, 1943 in Popowo, Poland. After graduating from vocational school, he worked as a car mechanic at a machine center from 1961 to 1965. He served in the army for two years, rose to the rank of corporal, and in 1967 was employed in the Gdansk shipyards as an electrician. In 1969 he married Danuta Golos and they have eight children.

During the clash in December 1970 between the workers and the government, he was one of the leaders of the shipyard workers and was briefly detained. In 1976, however, as a result of his activities as a shop steward, he was fired and had to earn his living by taking temporary jobs. In 1978 with other activists he began to organize free non-communist trade unions and took part in many actions on the seacoast. He was kept under surveillance by the state security service and frequently detained.

In August 1980 he led the Gdansk shipyard strike which gave rise to a wave of strikes over much of the country with Walesa seen as the leader. The primary demands were for workers' rights. The authorities were forced to capitulate and to negotiate with Walesa the Gdansk Agreement of August 31, 1980, which gave the workers the right to strike and to organize their own independent union. The Catholic Church supported the movement, and in January 1981 Walesa was cordially received by Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. Walesa himself has always regarded his Catholicism as a source of strength and inspiration.

In the years 1980-81 Walesa traveled to Italy, Japan, Sweden, France and Switzerland as guest of the International Labour Organisation. In September 1981 he was elected Solidarity Chairman at the First National Solidarity Congress in Gdansk. The country's brief enjoyment of relative freedom ended in December 1981, when General Jaruzelski, fearing Soviet armed intervention among other considerations, imposed martial law, "suspended" Solidarity, arrested many of its leaders, and interned Walesa in a country house in a remote spot. In November 1982 Walesa was released and reinstated at the Gdansk shipyards. Although kept under surveillance, he managed to maintain lively contact with Solidarity leaders in the underground. While martial law was lifted in July 1983, many of the restrictions were continued in civil code. In October 1983 the announcement of Walesa's Nobel Prize raised the spirits of the underground movement, but the award was attacked by the government press.

The Jaruzelski regime became even more unpopular as economic conditions worsened, and it was finally forced to negotiate with Walesa and his Solidarity colleagues. The result was the holding of parliamentary elections which, although limited, led to the establishment of a non-communist government. Under Mikhail Gorbachev the Soviet Union was no longer prepared to use military force to keep communist parties in satellite states in power. Walesa, now head of the revived Solidarity labor union, began a series of meetings with world leaders. In November 1989 he became the third person in history, after the Marquis de Lafayette and Winston Churchill, to address a joint session of the United States Congress.

In April 1990 at Solidarity's second national congress, Walesa was elected chairman with 77.5% of the votes. In December 1990 in a general ballot he was elected President of the Republic of Poland. He served until defeated in the election of November 1995. Walesa has been granted many honorary degrees from universities, including Harvard University and the University of Paris. Other honors include the Medal of Freedom (Philadelphia, U.S.A.); the Award of Free World (Norway); and the European Award of Human Rights.

1998 Award Winners

1998 Award Winners


President Mikhail Gorbachev

International Freedom Award – 1998

Hailed as one of the 20th century's most pivotal leaders, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931, in Privolnoje, Soviet Union, where he grew up and began his career. Working for a time as a machine operator at the Stavropol Agricultural Institute in 1946, he later went on to graduate in law from Moscow State University. His political start came when he was elected a member of the Central committee, Communist Party (CCCP) in 1971.

From 1978-1985, he served as Secretary of the CCCP accountable for agriculture. This was a tremendous responsibility in a country that produces more than 108 million metric tons of wheat annually-fully 18% of the world's major food crop, ahead of both China and the United States. Between 1970-1990, Gorbachev also served as Deputy of the Supreme Soviet. He has been honored with the Orders of Lenin, the Red Banner of Labour and the Badge of Honour.

It was in his role as President of the Soviet Union that he built a relationship of mutual trust with the United States. He helped shape and then signed two broad disarmament pacts that dramatically reduced the danger of worldwide nuclear destruction. For his extraordinary efforts, he was awarded the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize.

This significant reduction in the threat of global nuclear war is Mikhail Gorbachev's legacy to the world.

Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks

National Freedom Award – 1998

Attending both LeMoyne College (currently LeMoyne-Owen College) and Howard University, Benjamin Lawson Hooks' education was interrupted by World War II, during which he served with the 92nd Infantry Division and saw combat in Italy. Hooks completed his education by earning a Juris Doctorate degree from the DePaul University College of Law in Chicago in 1948. Shortly after graduation, he began to practice law in Memphis.

Hooks was born into a Memphis family known for producing business leaders. He was no exception. In 1956, he co-founded the Mutual Federal Savings and Loan Association, where he served as vice president until 1972. Serving as an assistant public defender from 1961-1964, Hooks strengthened his desire for equal treatment under the law for all citizens. In his daily practice, Hooks provided the poor with equal and able representation in the judicial system. Noted for his drive and his stellar command of the law, Hooks was appointed as a judge in the Shelby County Criminal Court system in 1965. This act made him the first African-American judge in the South since Reconstruction. Following this appointment, Hooks was elected to an eight-year term in 1966.

Establishing yet another first, Hooks was appointed by President Nixon to serve on the Federal Communications Commission in 1972. He served for five years, resigning in 1977 to assume leadership of the NAACP.

The power of the dream is made manifest in the life of Dr. Benjamin Hooks. Memphis is fortunate to count him a native son.

1997 Award Winners

1997 Award Winners

Jackie Robinson Smiling
Jackie Robinson

National Freedom Award – 1997

Jackie Robinson, one of the most significant baseball players in the history of the game, got his professional start in Kansas City. While playing short stop for the war-depleted Monarchs in 1945 he was spotted by Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Two years later he became the first black man to play in the modern major leagues.

Robinson was born in Georgia and raised in Pasadena, CA. A superb athlete, he excelled at every sport he attempted. He achieved stardom at UCLA, where he became the first four-letter athlete in that university's history. Following his discharge from the Army in 1944, he accepted a position teaching physical education at Samuel Huston College in Austin, TX. The following year, Monarchs founder and owner J. L. Wilkinson, acting on a tip from pitcher Hilton Smith, invited him to try out for the team during their spring training in Houston.

During his one season in the Negro Leagues, Robinson proved to be an outstanding hitter, a skilled and aggressive base runner, and was one of the best infielders in the league. His spot on the Monarchs' roster proved to be instrumental in securing his part in "baseball's great experiment." During that season Branch Rickey scoured the Negro leagues under the pretext of finding players for a new all-black league he was starting. Only his closest associates knew that Rickey was actually looking for just the right player to lead an assault on baseball's 60-year color barrier.

Robinson signed with the Dodgers after the 1945 season. He played on their top farm team in 1946, entered the major leagues the following year, and put together a spectacularly successful ten-year career in the majors. Among his long list of achievements, in 1962 Robinson became the first black player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Robinson died in 1972.

General Colin Powell

International Freedom Award – 1997

Colin L. Powell was nominated by President Bush on December 16, 2000 as Secretary of State. After being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he was sworn in as the 65th Secretary of State on January 20, 2001.

Prior to his appointment, Secretary Powell was the chairman of America's Promise - The Alliance for Youth, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to mobilizing people from every sector of American life to build the character and competence of young people.

Secretary Powell was a professional soldier for 35 years, during which time he held myriad command and staff positions and rose to the rank of 4-star General. His last assignment, from October 1, 1989 to September 30, 1993, was as the 12th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense. During this time, he oversaw 28 crises, including Operation Desert Storm in the victorious 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Following his retirement, Secretary Powell wrote his best-selling autobiography, My American Journey, which was published in 1995. Additionally, he pursued a career as a public speaker, addressing audiences across the country and abroad. Secretary Powell was born in New York City on April 5, 1937 and was raised in the South Bronx. His parents, Luther and Maud Powell, immigrated to the United States from Jamaica. Secretary Powell was educated in the New York City public schools, graduating from the City College of New York (CCNY), where he earned a bachelor's degree in geology. He also participated in ROTC at CCNY and received a commission as an Army second lieutenant upon graduation in June 1958. His further academic achievements include a Master of Business Administration degree from George Washington University.

1996 Award Winners

1996 Award Winners

Andrew Young

National Freedom Award – 1996

The Honorable Andrew Young is an ordained minister, international businessman, sports enthusiast, human rights activist, published author and former public servant.

Young became one of Dr. King's principle lieutenants, and was in Memphis, Tennessee when King was shot in 1968.

He helped draft the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As a top aide to Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, he was involved in the movement's inception and served as vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He presently serves on the board of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change.

He was elected to three terms in the United States House of Representatives from the Fifth Congressional District of Georgia, and, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter named him Ambassador to the United Nations. He served two terms as mayor of Atlanta and was co-chairman of the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Young as chairman of the Southern Africa Enterprise Development Fund, a $100 million privately managed fund to provide equity to businesses in 11 countries.

In 1996, Ambassador Young was the National Freedom Award Recipient presented by the National Civil Rights Museum.

In 2003, Young founded the Andrew Young Foundation, an organization to support and promote education, health, leadership and human rights in the United States, Africa and the Caribbean.

He has published two books, "A Way Out of No Way" and "An Easy Burden".

His awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, The 2011 Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award, for his involvement on Look Up andLive, and more than 45 honorary degrees from such universities as Yale, Notre Dame, Emory, Morehouse and the University of Georgia.

Young is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first inter-collegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African American students.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

International Freedom Award (posthumously) – 1996

Yitzhak Rabin - IDF Chief of Staff, diplomat and the fifth Prime Minister of the State of Israel - was born in Jerusalem in 1922, the son of an ardently labor-Zionist family. Rabin completed his schooling at the Kadoorie Agricultural High School with distinction and then joined the Palmach - the elite strike force of the Haganah underground defense organization. He distinguished himself as a military leader early on, during his seven years of service in the Palmach. After the disbandment of this force with the establishment of the State of Israel, Rabin embarked on a military career in the IDF, which spanned two decades.

Rising to the rank of Major-General at the age of 32, Rabin established the IDF training doctrine and the leadership style which became known by the command "follow me." In 1962 he was appointed Chief of the General Staff and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General. He developed the IDF fighting doctrine - based on movement and surprise - which was employed during the 1967 Six-Day War, when the achievement of air supremacy and massive deployment of armor led to the famous military victory. In January 1968, after 26 years in uniform, Rabin retired from the IDF.

He was appointed Ambassador to the United States in 1968. During his five years in Washington, he strove to consolidate bilateral ties and played a major role in promoting "strategic cooperation" with the United States, which led to massive American military aid to Israel. Rabin returned to Israel in 1973, before the Yom Kippur War. He became an active member of the Labor party; was elected a Member of Knesset in the general elections of December 1973; and was appointed Minister of Labor in the government formed by Golda Meir in March 1974. This government resigned shortly thereafter, and on June 2, 1974, the Knesset voted confidence in the new government formed by Yitzhak Rabin.

1995 Award Winners

1995 Award Winners

Elie Weisel

International Freedom Award – 1995

Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 in the town of Sighet, now part of Romania. During World War II, he, with his family and other Jews from the area, were deported to the German concentration and extermination camps, where his parents and little sister perished. Wiesel and his two older sisters survived. Liberated from Buchenwald in 1945 by advancing Allied troops, he was taken to Paris where he studied at the Sorbonne and worked as a journalist.

In 1958, he published his first book, La Nuit, a memoir of his experiences in the concentration camps. He has since authored more than 35 books, some of which use these events as their basic material. In his many lectures, Wiesel has concerned himself with the situation of the Jews and other groups who have suffered persecution and death because of their religion, race or national origin. He has been outspoken on the plight of Soviet Jewry, on Ethiopian Jewry and on behalf of the State of Israel today.

In 1986, Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize, to cap off an impressive list of honors including 75 degrees, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States Congressional God Medal, the Medal of Liberty Awards, and the rank of Grand Officer in the French Legion of Honor among more than 80 awards.

After winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Wiesel and his wife established the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. The mission of the Foundation rests in advancing the cause of human rights and peace throughout the world by providing a forum for the discussion of urgent ethical issues confronting humanity.

Having undertaken projects with Nobel Laureates, Educators, and Diplomats from around the world, Wiesel then turned to the younger generation to find answers. His May 1995 conference on international understanding, "Tomorrow's Leaders," met in Venice, and addressed the problems of inner-city plight, violence, and racial tension. Wiesel believes that the answers to today's problems lie with the generation that will become the leaders of the future.

Wiesel has made his home in New York City, and is now a United States citizen. He has been a visiting scholar at Yale University, a Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at the City College of New York, and since 1976 has been Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University where he teaches "Literature of Memory." Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council from 1980 - 1986, Wiesel serves on numerous boards of trustees and advisors.

Dr. Dorothy Height

National Freedom Award – 1995

Dorothy Irene Height was born on March 24, 1912, in Richmond, Virginia, and raised in Rankin, Pennsylvania. A 1933 graduate of New York University (with both bachelor's and master's degrees in educational psychology), Height was involved in social service for some six decades, four of them as president of the National Council of Negro WomenNCNW), an umbrella organization that comprises civic, church, educational, labor, community, and professional groups.

Her involvement with the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) facilities for black women, dating to the 1930s, led to her advocacy of improved conditions for black domestic workers, to her election to national office within the YWCA, and to her involvement with that organization's integration policy. In 1957 she became the fourth president of the NCNW, which she steered through the civil rights struggles of the 1960s by organizing voter registration in the South, voter education in the North, and scholarship programs for student civil rights workers. In the 1970s she helped the NCNW win grants to provide vocational training and assist women in opening businesses.

Height subsequently used her position to call on the black community to make itself more independent, placing special emphasis in the 1990s on drawing young people into the organization to join in the war against drugs, illiteracy, and unemployment. She has also served as a social services expert on local, state, and federal governmental committees concerned with women's issues. Before retiring in 1996, she helped secure funding for a national headquarters for the NCNW in the historic Sears House in Washington, D.C., where the organization also housed its Dorothy I. Height Leadership Institute. Among the numerous honors bestowed upon her are the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1994).

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