Memphis, TN, Sept. 01, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Today, the National Civil Rights Museum announced the 30th Anniversary 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 virtually presented live October 14, 2021 from the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, TN. The Pre-Show is 7pm; the Ceremony is 7:30pm Central. Visit for more information and updates.


MICHELLE OBAMA: Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is a lawyer, writer, and the wife of the 44th President, Barack Obama. She is the first African American First Lady of the United States. Through her four main initiatives, she has become a role model for women and an advocate for healthy families, service members and their families, higher education, and international adolescent girls’ education.

At the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama said, “…we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be.” She become a global icon for women’s rights and healthy families as first lady and has continued her work since leaving the White House in 2017 adding advocacy for young girls. One initiative is The Girls Opportunity Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation which seeks to empower adolescent girls around the world through education, allowing them to achieve their full potential and transform their families, communities, and countries. 

A product of Chicago public schools, Michelle Obama studied sociology and African-American studies at Princeton University. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1988, she joined the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin. After a few years, Mrs. Obama decided her true calling was working with people to serve their communities and their neighbors. She served as assistant commissioner of planning and development in Chicago’s City Hall before becoming the founding executive director of the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, a program that prepares youth for public service.

Mrs. Obama doesn’t hesitate to say that first and foremost, she is Malia and Sasha’s mom. 

THE POOR PEOPLE’S CAMPAIGN: A National Call for Moral Revival picked up the unfinished work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others, to confront the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.  In the summer of 2018, the most expansive wave of nonviolent civil disobedience in the 21st century United States was launched in 40 states, committed to direct action. Under the leadership of partnering organizations, the Campaign demonstrates the power of poor people to be change agents at the very heart of democracy. The two anchoring organizations are Repairers of the Breach and Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice led by Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, respectively. 

REV. DR. WILLIAM J. BARBER II is the architect of the Moral Movement, which began with weekly Moral Monday protests at the North Carolina General Assembly in 2013. His leadership in the relaunch of the Poor People’s Campaign in 2018, the virtual 2020 and on-site 2021 Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington have mobilized diverse audiences. For 12 years, Barber served as president of the North Carolina NAACP and for two years served the National NAACP Board of Directors.  Having written four books and won numerous awards and honorary degrees, Barber is the President and Senior Lecturer of Repairers of the Breach.

Co-Chairing with Barber is REV. DR. LIZ THEOHARIS, Director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Theoharis has over 20 years working with grassroots organizations in workers’ rights, homelessness and welfare rights to win significant victories for the poor. She is the author of two books and teaches at Union Theological Seminary.

“This year is the double 30th anniversary of the National Civil Rights Museum, dedicated to being a catalyst for positive social change and a place where the truth in history lives,” said Dr. Russell Wigginton, the National Civil Rights Museum President. “And, for this 30th Freedom Award, we honor Michelle Obama and Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign, who have distinctly changed our communities, nation and world.”

“We’re devoting this Freedom Award to those who have, and are still, creating life-changing blueprints for our society,” said Faith Morris, Chief Marketing & External Affairs Officer and Managing Director/Producer of the Freedom Award. “A special moment will focus on those events this past year that changed the way this nation sees and deals with racial injustice including a special tribute to the teenager who triggered a national conscious-raising response.”

The special tribute recognizes Darnella Frazier whose eyewitness video of George Floyd launched global protests against injustice and brutality. It was her viral video that sparked a racial reckoning in the midst of a global pandemic.  

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. This is his third occasion as the ceremony host.

Over the past 30 years, 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, President Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama, President Bill Clinton, President Jimmy Carter, President Mikhail Gorbachev, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rosa Parks, Bono, Secretary of State Colin Powell, President Lech Walesa, President Oscar Arias, President Mary Robinson, Paul Rusesabagina, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Tom Brokaw, Frank Robinson, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Bernard Lafayette, Marlo Thomas, Hill Harper, Marva Collins, Usher Raymond, Bill Frist, Dolores Huerta, Rev. James Lawson, Cicely Tyson, Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, Kirk Whalum, Southern Poverty Law Center, Susan Taylor, Rev. C.T. Vivian, John Seigenthaler, the NAACP, Alonzo Mourning, Danny Glover, Julius “Dr. J” Ervin, Eva Longoria Parker, 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-Hall, 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, Morris Dees, Vice President Joe Biden, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., Gloria Steniem, Hafsat Abiola, and John Legend.

The Freedom Award presenting sponsors are International Paper, FedEx, Nike, Hyde Family Foundation, Ford Motor Company and First Tennessee Foundation.

The Student Forum (virtual) is a free student- and educator-only forum on October 14 at 10am, during which the Keeper of the Dream Award is presented to outstanding youth.  Nominations for this student award are open until September 10. See the website for info.

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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