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Freedom Awards set for Fred Smith, Pulitzer winners

With a welcome return to the fanfare and flourish of pre-pandemic years, National Civil Rights Museum principals announced the three stellar personalities to be honored at the 2022 Freedom Awards on Oct. 20.

Taking this year’s honors are Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Warmth of Other Suns,” Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the civil rights era trilogy “America in the King Years,” Taylor Branch, and global business mogul and commercial strategist, cited in Forbes “100 Greatest Living Business Minds,” Frederick W. Smith of FedEx fame.

“After two years of virtual Freedom Awards, we are happy to announce that our 31st Freedom Awards will be an in-person event,” said Faith Morris, NCRM chief marketing and external affairs officer.

NCRM President Dr. Russell Wigginton will host his first in-person, signature event since stepping into the prestigious post on Aug. 1, 2021.

“I have an excellent team who has helped me prepare for this first in-person event,” said Wigginton. “The time spent in virtual production has been an excellent time of preparation.”

He continued, “We are excited about this year’s Freedom Awards, and we look forward to sharing the life-changing stories of our honorees. 

“Each year, the National Civil Rights Museum honors champions of freedom who have distinguished in making great global national impact. We have an excellent process that has been in place since the Freedom Awards began in 1991.”

Isabel Wilkerson

Isabel Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times in 1994, making her the first African-American 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.

Her two books were New York Times Bestsellers, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” and “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” The first publication chronicles the Great Migration through the eyes of three individuals. They left the Jim Crow, racially segregated South from 1915 to 1970, for the North, where the promise of better lives and better opportunities awaited.

Wilkerson’s second book “Caste” explores the inherent caste system in America that has created a persistent hierarchy of social divisions that yet exist. Caste is being adapted into a film by 2015 Freedom Award honoree Ava DuVernay.

Taylor Branch

Taylor Branch penned the landmark trilogy on the civil rights era. The trilogy’s first publication, “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989, along with an impressive number of other accolades. The two successive volumes rounded out the trilogy: “Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65,’ and “At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68.”

In 2019, Branch won an Emmy Award as executive producer for an HBO documentary, “King in the Wilderness,” a production that details the final three years of King’s life.

Branch first championed the cause of civil rights when at age 21 he was elected to the Georgia Loyalist Democrats delegation at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The Loyalist Democrats challenged the all-white delegation.

Frederick W. Smith

Frederick W. Smith is the founder and executive chairman of FedEx Corporation, a global enterprise that serves more than 220 countries and territories.

Smith has focused nearly 50 years on helping people acquire skills and education to access opportunities. 

Smith’s dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion has been infused into the FedEx culture, creating opportunities for FedEx team members and communities in Memphis and around the world.

Smith served four years in the U.S. Marines, including two tours of duty in Vietnam.

Smith is a member of the Aviation Hall of Fame and the Business Hall of Fame. He has been lauded for his most recent initiative, FedEx-HBCU Student Ambassador Program for students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The project promotes career preparedness and job opportunities.

The 2022 Freedom Award event will be staged at the Downtown’s Memphis Orpheum Theatre. The Pre-Award Gala begins at 5:30 p.m., complete with red carpet entrances and press interviews of star-quality attendees. The award ceremony begins at 7 p.m.

(Additional information and updates are available at: freedomaward.org.)


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