Memphis, Tennessee, UNITED STATES

Memphis, TN, Aug. 24, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Today the National Civil Rights Museum announced the 2022 Freedom Award. The Freedom Award is 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 on October 20, 2022, at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, TN. The Pre-Award Gala is 5:30 pm; The Award Ceremony is 7:00 pm. Visit for more information and updates.


TAYLOR BRANCH: Taylor Branch is an author and public speaker best known for his landmark trilogy on the civil rights era, America in the King Years. The trilogy’s first book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, won the Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards in 1989. Two successive volumes remain in demand decades later: Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65, and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968. 

At the age of 21, Taylor Branch played a role in civil rights politics as an elected member of the Georgia Loyalist Democrats delegation at the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The delegates modeled the Mississippi Freedom Democrats of 1964 and challenged the all-white delegation.

Having a career rooted in journalism, Branch’s recent cover story for the October 2011 issue of The Atlantic, “The Shame of College Sports,” touched off continuing national debate about NCAA rules that severely abridge the rights of college athletes.

Branch returned to civil rights history in his latest book, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement (2013).  This short book, dedicated to “students of freedom and teachers of history,” introduces the era with selected excerpts from the MLK trilogy. In 2019, he won an Emmy Award as Executive Producer for the HBO documentary King in the Wilderness, a production about the final three years of Dr. King’s life. 

FREDERICK W. SMITH: Frederick W. Smith is the founder and executive chairman of FedEx Corporation, which under his leadership has become a global enterprise that serves more than 220 countries and territories. Over his nearly 50-year history leading FedEx, Smith has focused his passions on helping people acquire skills and education to access opportunity. His dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion has carried over into the FedEx culture creating opportunities for FedEx team members and communities in Memphis and around the world.

For Smith, giving back and community service has been a personal and business imperative. Smith served four years in the Marines, including two tours of duty in Vietnam, and has served as co-chairman of both the U.S. World War II Memorial project and the campaign for the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Smith has served 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. FedEx has long supported civil rights museums across the country, including the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM), helping to build awareness and educational programming chronicling the American Civil Rights Movement. 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. His leadership at FedEx has led to equitable opportunities for advancement for team members, and a measurable boost to local and global economic vitality. As a visionary entrepreneur, his support for small businesses has led to training, mentoring, networking, and capital access to help diverse entrepreneurs grow.

Smith is a member of the Aviation Hall of Fame and the Business Hall of Fame. He was cited in Forbes “100 Greatest Living Business Minds” and has been named a top CEO by both Barron’s and Chief Executive magazines.

ISABEL WILKERSON: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize winner and the National Humanities Medal, is the author of The New York Times bestsellers The Warmth of Other Suns and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. She draws a direct link between the leaderless revolution known as the Great Migration and the protest movements for social justice today, both responses to unacknowledged and unaddressed history. She has become an impassioned voice for demonstrating how history can help us understand ourselves, our country, and our current era of upheaval.

Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times in 1994, making her the first Black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African American to win for individual reporting in the history of American journalism.

Wilkerson’s 2020 book, Caste: The Origins of our Discontents, examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how a hierarchy of social divisions still defines our lives today. Wilkerson brings the past’s complexities to vivid life through her passionate research and her profound gift for connecting with audiences of all backgrounds. Caste is being adapted into a film by 2015 Freedom Award honoree Ava DuVernay.

“We are excited to be back in person for Freedom Award and to honor these distinguished individuals,” said Dr. Russell Wigginton, National Civil Rights Museum President. “We laud them for their impact and influence on national and global change through humanity, global citizenship, community building, innovation, civil rights history documentation, and perspective. We look forward to sharing their life-changing stories.”

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.”

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. Currently, he stars in the new BET+ series, Black Hamptons, and OWN network’s Queen Sugar final season.

The Student Forum is a free, virtual student-led forum on October 20 at 10 am, and is designed to inspire young people to take action to impact their communities.  With reflections on the student Keeper of the Dream Award winners of the past, the event will feature engagement with honorees, performances, and a salute to outstanding youth who continue to stand up for a community of inclusion, equity, and social justice.

Since 1991 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, Rosa Parks, President Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama, President Bill Clinton, President Jimmy Carter, President Mikhail Gorbachev, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bono, Secretary of State Colin Powell, President Lech Walesa, President Oscar Arias, President Mary Robinson, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Paul Rusesabagina, Tom Brokaw, Frank Robinson, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Bernard Lafayette, Marlo Thomas, Marva Collins, Bill Frist, Dolores Huerta, Rev. James Lawson, Cicely Tyson, Kirk Whalum, Southern Poverty Law Center, Rev. C.T. Vivian, the NAACP, Danny Glover, Julius “Dr. J” Ervin, 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, 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, Vice President Joe Biden, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., Gloria Steinem, Hafsat Abiola, John Legend, Michelle Obama, and The Poor People’s Campaign.  

The Freedom Award presenting sponsors are International Paper, FedEx, Hyde Family Foundation, Nike, and Ford Motor Company. Tickets go on sale on September 1 at the Orpheum Theatre.

About 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 honors and preserves 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. More information about the Smithsonian Affiliations program and Affiliate activity is available at


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