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Freedom Award

Benefiting the National Civil Rights Museum

Story by Bill Bannister | Photos by Don Perry

The 26th annual Freedom Award ceremony presented by the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel was held at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Memphis. Hundreds of those dedicated to the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King arrived at the Halloran Center for the pre-show gala and walk down the red carpet.

Hors d’oeuvres were passed around outside the magnificent hall as guests enjoyed libations from several open bars, and mingled with dignitaries present for the occasion. Inside, there was a literal cornucopia of delicious food provided by Big Momma’s and Granny’s Catering. The smooth and sultry jazz and soul of The Dealers provided the serenade for this sumptuous feast. .

Since 1991, the Freedom Award has served as a symbol of the ongoing fight for human rights both in America and around the world. Award recipients are celebrated for their tireless contributions in civil and human rights and for their dedication to creating opportunity for the disenfranchised. The long-lasting impact of this signature fundraising event is made possible by the many sponsors and individual patrons.

“Our honorees exemplify Dr. King’s mission and legacy of fighting for and protecting the rights of every man, woman, and child regardless of their race or social economic status, but especially for the marginalized, subjugated, and disenfranchised,” said Terri Lee Freeman, president of the National Civil Rights Museum.

Freedom Award recipients include Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama, Oprah Winfrey, Stevie Wonder, President Jimmy Carter, Colin Powell, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harry Belafonte, Mikhail Gorbachev, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Sidney Poitier, and Marlo Thomas. This year’s honorees included Rev. Bernice A. King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Coretta Scott King. Like her father, she is known nationally and internationally as one of the most powerful, motivating and life-changing orators. Bernice King has continually educated youth about the Kingian Nonviolence principles modeled by her parents.

Morris Dees, a civil rights lawyer who addresses cases of racial discrimination and combats the power of hate groups, and Grammy Award winning South African composer, bandleader, trumpeter, flugelhornist, singer, and radical activist against Apartheid, Hugh Masekela, also received the Freedom Award.

This year’s award ceremony included a special tribute to the 1,300 Memphis sanitation workers who protested amid an immovable administration in 1968 against unsafe conditions, unjust treatment, and unfair wages, exemplifying Dr. King’s declaration that “all labor has dignity”. Writer, commentator and activist, Michaela Angela Davis served as host of the Award Ceremony.

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