Journalist and author Isabel Wilkerson (left) is one of three National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award honorees this month. Here she receives the 2015 National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama at the White House in September 2016. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Authors Taylor Branch and Isabel Wilkerson and FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith are this year’s Freedom Award honorees from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, museum officials announced Monday.
The Freedom Award gala and presentation will be held Oct. 20 at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis.
Branch is best known for his trilogy on the civil rights era, which started with Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63. That book won the Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards in 1989. The two other volumes are Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65, and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968.
His cover story in the October 2011 issue of The Atlantic, “The Shame of College Sports,” stirred a national debate about NCAA rules that infringe on the rights of college athletes.
Branch’s latest book, published in 2013, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights
Movement, is dedicated to “students of freedom and teachers of history” and contains excerpts from the trilogy.
He won an Emmy Award in 2019 as executive producer of the HBO documentary, “King in the Wilderness,” which focused on the final three years of King’s life.
Wilkerson, a recipient of the National Humanities Medal in 2015, wrote two New York Times best-sellers about the United States’ complex racial past and its bearing on today’s issues: The Warmth of Other Suns and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.
Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times in 1994.
Her 2020 book, Caste, examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped American society and shows how the hierarchy of social divisions continues to define our lives.
Smith, executive chairman of FedEx Corp., has shown a dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion throughout his 50-year career leading the Memphis-based transportation giant, according to the Civil Rights Museum’s press release on the Freedom Award.
Smith’s history of community service has involved service on numerous boards,
including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Mayo Foundation.
As chair of the FedEx Corporate Contributions Committee, Smith has influenced millions in contributions to advancing inclusion, empowering economic opportunity, and encouraging learning and leadership for nonprofit organizations, the release says.
Smith recently kicked off the FedEx-HBCU Student Ambassador program for students
attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which combines philanthropic investments with career preparedness and job opportunities.
A Freedom Award special tribute recognizes Jeffery Robinson, executive director of The Who We Are Project, former ACLU deputy legal director, and former director of the ACLU Trone Center for Justice and Equality. A Harvard graduate with Memphis roots, Robinson has spent over 30 years working on criminal justice, racial justice, and reform issues.
He is the producer of the critically acclaimed documentary, “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America.”
For tickets visit http://freedomaward.org.
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