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Freedom Awards plus 20-year run equals Civil Rights museum blast

  • Written by Dorothy Bracy Alston
 Danny Glover

At the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts last Saturday (Nov. 12), Hollywood came to mind but it was all about Memphis, where red carpet glitz brought out an impressive group of local and national celebrities. At the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts last Saturday (Nov. 12), Hollywood came to mind but it was all about Memphis, where red carpet glitz and glam brought out an impressive group of both local and national celebrities.

 Actor Danny Glover and myriad local, regional and national stars and celebrities were in town last week for the 2011 Freedom Awards and the National Civil Rights Museum’s 20th anniversary. (Photo by Tyrone P. Easley)

 Grammy Award winner Usher received the philanthropy award. (Photo by Warren Roseborough)

 Cicely Tyson
 Renowned actress Cicely Tyson was an arts honoree. (Photo by Warren Roseborough)

It was a historic occasion, leaving several thousand guests with cherished memories, as the National Civil Rights Museum celebrated its 2011 Freedom Awards and 20 years in existence.

Fittingly, museum founding members D’Army Bailey and Chuck Scruggs and their spouses strolled the red carpet, along with an impressive group of CEO’s, corporate sponsors, politicians, celebs and 19 honorees.

In 1991, the first National Freedom Awards were handed out to three iconic national civil rights heroes: Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, who worked behind the scenes until her husband’s death; Rosa Parks, a previously unknown seamstress in Montgomery, Ala., ascribed as starting the civil rights movement when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger; and James Farmer, founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and member of the “Big Four,” which King, NAACP chief Roy Wilkins and Urban League head Whitney Young.

 There has been an impressive list of local, national and international awardees every since. During this commemorative year, 17 individuals and two civil rights organizations were honored.

The recipients recognized for activism included actors Danny Glover, and former Essence magazine editor Susan L. Taylor; arts honorees were actress Cicely Tyson and Grammy award winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum; education awardees included educator Marva Collins and actor/philanthropist Hill Harper; sports community beneficiaries were former NBA athletes Bill Russell and Alonzo Mourning; the humanitarian award went to former U.S. Senator Dr. Bill Frist; Grammy award winning entertainer Usher Raymond IV received the philanthropy award; and five iconic civil rights honorees were John Seigenthaler, Dolores Huerta, Leola Brown Montgomery, Rev. C.T. Vivian, the Rev. James Lawson, the Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, and the Rev. Ed King; along with two illustrious civil rights organizations, the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Except for Museum president, Beverly Robertson, and its founding members or board members, there are few others with the distinction of having attended every Freedom Award since its inception. One who’s had that honor is Robertson’s long time friend and Memphis State alum, Faith Morris, CEO/Chief Strategist, and employer of thirty marketing professionals at Merge Consumer Marketing in Chicago.

A supporter of the Museum since its inception and certainly since the Freedom Awards, Morris pinpointed what she thought made this year’s awards different.

“For one, it’s the 20th anniversary and it has continued to grow year after year based on who’s acknowledged and their contributions to activism and civil rights. This year is very significant and commemorative that they have nineteen honorees that are iconic freedom award winners instead of three. That’s amazing,” said Morris.

“I’ve known Beverly since Memphis State and there’s very little she can’t get done. She’s resourceful and visionary and really understands the impact of the Museum and how it is recognized nationally and internationally for the work she’s done. You always know when Beverly is involved, it’s always worth your time and attention to participate.”

Robertson couldn’t have reached this milestone alone. Along with her impressive board of directors and her family oriented staff of some 40 employees, they work tirelessly to make things happen and happen with a spirit of excellence.

Charles “Chip” Dudley, Independent Bank’s President and CEO, who has been on the board of trustees for many years, said, “This 20th year anniversary is a testament of how great Memphis is, and to see how they’ve (the National Civil Rights Museum team) has built such a great event and built this award into the program is wonderful. It’s the best board I sit on.”

Connie Dyson, the museum’s communications coordinator said, “Mrs. Robertson makes it easy to work here. We are one big happy family. I’ve learned so much. She is an educator who is forever teaching us. We are very excited about our growing sponsorship and the renovations to the Museum.”

This year’s 20th Anniversary Freedom Award Sponsors included:

Public Forum and Education Pioneer Award, International Paper;

Activism Legacy Award, Deutsche Bank;

Education Legacy Award, Cigna;

Humanitarian Pioneer Award, the Hyde Family Foundation;

Philanthropy Legacy Award, Ford Motor Company;

Arts Pioneer Award, FedEx Corporation

Arts Legacy Award, Southeastern Asset Management

Sports/Community Pioneer and Legacy Awards, Nike

Video Tributes, Exxon Mobil

Video Tributes, First Tennessee Foundation

To prepare for future decades, the National Civil Rights Museum has launched a comprehensive campaign to renovate the exhibits and the facility. On Oct. 25, Gary Shorb, chairman of the campaign, announced the launch of a $40 million campaign, with over $21 million total commitments received to date.

The public is encouraged to help preserve the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King and other courageous leaders fought to create by making a financial commitment to the cause. To find out how you can make your commitment, or for naming opportunities, contact Gary Shorb, Rose Flenorl, Beverly Robertson or Beverly Sakauye at 901-521-9699, ext. 251 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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