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  • Writer's pictureGena Heelz


(Photo courtesy of Connie Dyson, Marketing Communications Manager)

On July 25, 2019,The National Civil Rights Museum announced three individuals who will be honored with The Freedom Award, the museum’s signature event that pays tribute to outstanding individuals for their significant contributions to civil and human rights. The Freedom Award will be presented October 30, 2019 at the Orpheum Theatre. The Ceremony will be preceded by the Pre-Show Gala at the Halloran Centre for the Performing Arts.

The 28th Freedom Award honorees are HAFSAT ABIOLA, GLORIA STEINEM and JOHN LEGEND.

( Photo courtesy of Women In Africa)

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.

(Photo courtesy of Refinery29)

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.

(Photo courtesy of Elle)

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. “These three honorees have devoted themselves to uplifting communities of women, protecting our youngest and most vulnerable, and have effectively utilized the power of community organizing to promote change,” said Terri Lee Freeman, National Civil Rights Museum President. “They have drawn on the concept of peaceful protest, recognizing the freedom fighters and warriors that have gone before them. We are excited to share their stories and recognize their achievements.”

(Photo courtesy of Black enterprise )

The Freedom Award host is Lamman Rucker, an actor, educator, activist and entrepreneur whose career platform has been used to influence, educate and ignite communities through artistic and academic innovation. This year’s Freedom Award will pay tribute to the Green Book, or the Negro Travelers’ Green Book, that identified safe accommodations and services for African Americans traveling during the segregated Jim Crow Era. It was a resource that listed the Lorraine Motel, the current site of the museum.

(Photo courtesy of The National Civil Rights Museum)

Over the past 27 years, the National Civil Rights Museum has presented The Freedom Award to many of the most lauded civil and human rights leaders and history makers including Coretta Scott King, President Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama, President Bill Clinton, President Jimmy Carter, President Mikhail Gorbachev, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rosa Parks, Bono, Secretary of State Colin Powell, President Lech Walesa, President Oscar Arias, President Mary Robinson, Paul Rusesabagina, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Tom Brokaw, Frank Robinson, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Bernard Lafayette, Marlo Thomas, Hill Harper, Marva Collins, Usher Raymond, Bill Frist, Dolores Huerta, Rev. James Lawson, Cicely Tyson, Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, Kirk Whalum, Southern Poverty Law Center, Susan Taylor, Rev. C.T. Vivian, John Seigenthaler, the NAACP, Alonzo Mourning, Danny Glover, Julius “Dr. J” Ervin, Eva Longoria Parker, Dr. Dorothy Cotton, Dr. Wangari Maathai, Vice President Al Gore, Diane Nash, B.B. King, John Hope Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Rev. Joseph Lowery, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Congressman John Lewis, Maxine Smith, Rev. Benjamin Hooks, Julian Bond, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Andrew Young, Jackie Robinson, Frank Robinson, Elie Wiesel, Oprah Winfrey, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Geoffrey Canada, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, Ruby Bridges-Hall, Ava DuVernay, Swin Cash, Benjamin Crump, Tawakkol Karman, Soledad O’Brian, The Honorable Damon Keith, Bryan Stevenson, William F. Winter, Rev. Bernice A. King, Hugh Masekela, Morris Dees, Vice President Joe Biden, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., and Pitt Hyde. The Freedom Award presenting sponsors are International Paper, FedEx Corporation, Hyde Family Foundations, Ford Motor Company and First Tennessee Foundation. Freedom Award activities on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 include the following: 10:00 a.m. Student Forum Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church 5:00 p.m. Pre-Show Gala Halloran Centre for the Performing Arts and Education 7:30 p.m. Award Ceremony Orpheum Theatre The Freedom Award ceremony and Pre-Show Gala are ticketed events. Sponsorship levels range from $3,000 to $35,000.

Individual tickets are $200, $300 and $450.

Tickets and sponsorships are available at


The Student Forum is a free student and educator forum during which the Keeper of the Dream Award is presented. See the website for information about the National Civil Rights Museum.

(Photo courtesy of The National Civil Rights Museum)

The NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM, located at the historic Lorraine Motel where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, gives a comprehensive overview of the American Civil Rights Movement from slavery to the present. Since the Museum opened in 1991, millions of visitors from around the world have come, including more than 90,000 students annually. Serving as the new public square, the Museum is steadfast in its mission to honor and preserve the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination. We chronicle the American civil rights movement and tell the story of the ongoing struggle for human rights, serving as a catalyst to inspire action to create positive social change.

A Smithsonian Affiliate and an internationally acclaimed cultural institution, the Museum is recognized as a 2019 National Medal Award recipient by the Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS), the top national honor for museums and libraries. It is a TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Top 5% U.S. Museum, USA Today's Top 10 Best American Iconic Attractions; Top 10 Best Historical Spots in the U.S. by TLC's Family Travel; Must See by the Age of 15 by Budget Travel and Kids; Top 10, American Treasures by USA Today; and Best Memphis Attraction by The Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Business Journal. About Smithsonian Affiliations Established in 1996, Smithsonian Affiliations is a national outreach program that develops long-term collaborative partnerships with museums and educational and cultural organizations to enrich communities with Smithsonian resources. The long-term goal of Smithsonian Affiliations is to facilitate a two-way relationship among the Affiliate organizations and the Smithsonian Institution to increase discovery and inspire lifelong learning in communities across America.

For more information contact:

Faith Morris (901) 527-1226

More information about the Smithsonian Affiliations program and Affiliate activity is available at



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