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Freedom Award

National Civil Rights Museum

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger  | Photos by Don Perry 

Downtown Memphis took on the look of Hollywood as The National Civil Rights Museum hosted the 27th Freedom Award event. As luminaries, business leaders and other guests started their walk down the red carpet that stretched along South Main Street between the Halloran Centre and The Orpheum they were announced to the attending crowd. This year the museum’s signature event honored three champions of civil and human rights — former Vice President Joe Biden, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson and Memphis philanthropist Pitt Hyde.

“The theme for the 27th Freedom Award was ’1968,’ a reflection of a pivotal year in modern American and world history when the fight for equality went global,” said Terri Lee Freeman, National Civil Rights Museum President. “In 1968, the world was in turmoil in a way never recorded before, yet in ways similar to events today. The museum looks back on this historical year and how society moved forward. It looks toward leadership, champions of freedom who have been tested through trials and tragedies and remain invested in lighting the way for those who struggle.”

A pre-show gala took place at the Halloran Centre for the Performing Arts before the crowd moved to The Orpheum for the award ceremony. The evening was filled with inspiring messages of hope, peace and unity, and political messages addressing the future of our country. 

Biden, 47th Vice President of the US, commented on the state of political affairs in the nation, the effort to suppress voting rights, and “the battle for the soul of America.” Rev. Jackson spoke to the urgency for citizens to focus on ending poverty, racial polarization and peace as King did in his last days. When Hyde received the Freedom Award, he did so in homage to fellow honorees and Memphis civil rights leaders, Maxine Smith and Dr. Benjamin Hooks. The three civic leaders worked together to make The National Civil Rights Museum a reality and shared a passion for education. “To me, the biggest and most important issue is the K-12 educational reform,” said Hyde. “Access to quality education for every child remains the civil rights issue of our time.”

The evening also included a special tribute to Aretha Franklin, recognizing her role in the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights Movements. Kecalf Franklin, her son, and Victorie and Jordan Franklin, her grandchildren, received a medal on her behalf. 


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