The National Civil Rights Museum’s 30th anniversary celebration will have the star power of Michelle Obama, whose popularity continues to soar well past her eight years as the nation’s first lady. (Photo via the National Civil Rights Museum)

by Florence M. Howard —

Former first lady Michelle Obama and The Poor People’s Campaign will receive the National Civil Rights Museum’s 30th annual Freedom Awards.

Dr. Russell Wigginton, who celebrates his first month as president of the renowned museum, announced the recipients Wednesday (Sept. 1) during a virtual news conference.

The awards ceremony is scheduled for Oct. 14 at the Orpheum Theatre. 

The ceremony will include a special tribute to Darnella Frazier, the Minneapolis teenager who recorded the death of George Floyd during a police stop there on Memorial Day 2020.

The first African-American first lady, Michelle Obama is a lawyer, writer, public speaker and the wife of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, as well as and the mother of Malia and Sasha.

Being honored collectively is The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival.  

“This anti-poverty effort, launched in 2018 by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis is being recognized for reviving Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s original 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.” 

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis in Memphis during an event in conjunction with the MLK50 celebration. (Screen capture/TSD Archives)

The revived campaign was launched to ( “to confront the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.”  

During the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Mrs. Obama issued her famous catchphrase, “When they go low, we go high” while discussing how to “handle bullies.” 

As part of media mogul Oprah Winfrey’s 2020 Vision: Your Life In Focus tour, Mrs. Obama explained her belief about “going high” on Jan. 8, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York.

“Going low is easy, which is why people go to it. It’s easy to go low,” Mrs. Obama said. “It’s easy to lead by fear. It’s easy to be divisive. It’s easy to make people feel afraid.  That’s the easy thing and it’s also the short-term thing.” 

She continued, “For me, what I learned from my husband, what I learned from eight years in the White House, this life, this world, our responsibility in it is so much bigger than us. When I want to go low, it’s all about my own ego. It’s not about solving anything. … It’s about seeking revenge on the thing that happened to you.”

Mrs. Obama said that her purpose in life isn’t revolved around taking care of her “own little ego,” but instead to ensure that she is a positive role model for the next generation and is creating positive change.

“There is a bigger purpose for me out there. So, when I respond to something, I have to think about that,” she said.

If her words are not fixing a problem or at least moving the needle in the right direction, she knows that she’s not going high enough, she said.

Begun in 1991, the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award honors individuals for their significant and outstanding contributions in civil and human rights, and their dedication to creating opportunities for others in America and throughout the world. 

On Oct. 14, a pre-show gala and red carpet at the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education will begin at 5:30 p.m., with the main event at the Orpheum Theatre starting at 7:30 p.m.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the 2021 event format will be a “hybrid of a live show, with the audience on-site and or joining virtually.

This year’s Freedom Award ceremony honors the 30th anniversary of the award’s – and museum’s – launch in 1991,” said Faith Morris, NCRM’s chief marketing and external affairs officer and Freedom Awards managing director and producer. 

“Having the ability to include a virtual audience has allowed the attraction to increase its footprint,” Morris said.

Actor/activist Lamman Rucker will serve as emcee for the event for the third time. A graduate of Hampton University, he is known for his most recent role as “Jacob Greenleaf” in the Memphis-based “Greenleaf” TV series (OWN) and for former roles on daytime soap operas – “As the World Turns” and “All My Children” – in addition to Tyler Perry’s films “Why Did I Get Married?,” “Why Did I Get Married Too?,” and the “Meet the Browns” TV series.

Wigginton took over as the president of the National Civil Rights Museum on Aug. 1, 2021. He is a graduate of Rhodes College, where he served as a history professor and senior administrator for nearly 25 years.