National Civil Rights Museum 2022 Freedom Award Honorees recognized for civil, human rights work
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The 31st annual National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award honors individuals dedicating their lives to making a difference in the world and their dedication to civil rights.
This year’s honorees include two Pulitzer Prize-winning writers and a Memphis businessman who helped put the Bluff City on the international stage.
Every year, Memphians head to Downtown Memphis to honor the contributions of leaders in civil and human rights, dressed to impress.
The first honoree to take the stage Thursday night was Taylor Branch.
Branch is an author, award-winning producer and public speaker whose trilogy “America in the King Years” followed the life and civil rights legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. He won an Emmy Award for producing a documentary on King in the final years of his life.
Branch shared what this honor means to him.
“It means I didn’t spend my working life in vain, so I’m very pleased,” Branch said. ”I’m thrilled to be here back in Memphis. I’ve been coming here ever since I started researching in 1982, so I’m glad to be back.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson’s storytelling over the years focuses on the Great Migration, the mass movement of African Americans fleeing the prejudice and racism of the Jim Crow South.
She says being an honoree means everything.
“This is a compilation of so much that I do, so it’s so amazing and wonderful and just magical to be here,” said Wilkerson. “It really is.”
The third and final honoree was FedEx Corporation Founder and Executive Chairman Fred Smith.
Nearly fifty years ago, Smith helped with the revival of the city years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Now, FedEx is the largest employer in Memphis.
Smith was honored for his dedication to diversity and opening the door to opportunity.
“How many great African Americans built FedEx... from pilot, to senior vice president, to engineers to pick up delivery people,” said Fred Smith. “I mean... that’s what it was all about, giving people opportunity.”
Thursday’s ceremony also includes a special tribute to Jeffery Robins, the executive director of the Who We Are Project for his work on criminal and racial justice reform.
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