Earlier this year, the National Civil Rights Museum paused to recognize a historic date from 1968 – the April 4 assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., right on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel.
This year, the NCRM’s 2018 Freedom Award wants to shine some light on the rest of that very turbulent year and the way it affected modern history – as well as the lives and careers of the three 2018 honorees.
On Wednesday afternoon, NCRM President Terri Lee Freeman announced the recipients of the 27th Freedom Award, which will be presented at The Orpheum Theatre on Oct. 17. The honorees are:
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- Civil Rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson
- Philanthropist and AutoZone founder Pitt Hyde
There will also be a special tribute to “The Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin, who was born in Memphis and provided inspiration and financial support to the civil rights movement and its leaders, including Dr. King.
Freeman said the 1968 theme was chosen not just for its historical significance but also for parallels to current events.
In 1968, Americans were protesting an unpopular president (Lyndon B. Johnson) and an unpopular war in Vietnam. Two iconic figures were gunned down in Dr. King and presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy. There were even athletes protesting during the national anthem – in that case Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in support of the “Black Power” movement.
Here in Memphis, 1968 was the year two African-American sanitation workers were killed, which led to the eventual strike that brought Dr. King to Memphis.
“In 1968, the world was in turmoil in a way never recorded before, yet in ways similar to today,” Freeman said. “The museum looks back on this historical year and how society moved forward. It looks toward leadership, champions of freedom, who have been tested through trials and tragedies, and remain invested in lighting the way for those who struggle.
After the initial announcement, Freeman elaborated on how the honorees connect to 1968 and the theme of this year’s Freedom Award.
Joe Biden: “Joe Biden was in law school. He was actually clerking in 1968,” Freeman said. “And he considered Robert F. Kennedy his hero. So he was impacted and went on to have a life of public service.”
Jesse Jackson: “Jesse Jackson, as we know, was there – he was here at the Lorraine Motel when the tragic events occurred and took the life of Dr. King. And he was forever changed by that event,” Freeman said. “I think we have to recognize that Jesse Jackson has been a proponent for those people who have been disenfranchised – ever since 1968.”
Pitt Hyde: “Pitt Hyde actually started his philanthropic career in 1968 and has dedicated a lot of his philanthropic dollars to education as a civil right,” Freeman said.
The Freedom Award festivities begin earlier in the day with a Student Forum at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church at 10 a.m. The Pre-Show Gala and Red Carpet starts at The Halloran Centre at 5 p.m., with the Award Ceremony starting at 7 p.m. at the Orpheum. Writer, commentator and activist Michaela Angela Davis will host the ceremony.
Freeman added that the museum is sticking to changes it made to the award ceremony last year, which were themselves in response to feedback about the event’s format and length.
“The changes we made last year were very well received,” Freeman said. “The red carpet on Main Street was a hit, so we will close down Main again for the red carpet. And everyone needs to pray again for good weather. But there will be no new changes this year.”
Premiere sponsors for the 2018 Freedom Award are International Paper, Hyde Family Foundations, FedEx Corporation, Ford Motor Company and First Tennessee. Sponsorships are still available, ranging from $3,000 to $35,000. Individual tickets for the Freedom Award are $200, $300 and $450. Tickets and sponsorships are available at www.civilrightsmuseum.org.
Freeman hopes that Freedom Award weekend helps people look at the parallels between 1968 and 2018.
“On one hand, you have a lot of chaos,” she said. “On another hand, you have a lot of progress. We’ll talk about that during the event.
“One of the elements of our mission is to provoke people to think,” Freeman added. “And so, what we want to do with this Freedom Award is to have people think.”