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Keep-on-keeping-on tone resonates at 2023 Freedom Award ceremony

by Florence M. Howard —

The honorees at last week’s National Civil Rights Museum’s 32 annual Freedom Awards celebration focused on the themes of fighting back against reactionary politics and efforts to prevent a candid account of U.S. racial history and the importance of voting.

The event was held at Downtown’s Orpheum Theatre Oct. 19 and attendees included a who’s-who list of corporate, nonprofit and community leaders from across the city and the state.

This year’s honorees were Georgia voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, international human rights advocate Kerry Kennedy and Stanford history professor Dr. Clayborne Carson, who since 1985 has headed the effort to edit and publish the papers of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Freedom Award honoree Stacey Abrams fields a question on the red carpet. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)
Stanford history professor and 2023 Freedom Award recipient Dr. Clayborne Carson. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)
International human rights advocate Kerry Kennedy speaks after accepting the Freedom Award. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

The Freedom Awards honor individuals who have made “significant contributions in civil rights and who have laid the foundation for present and future leaders in the battle for human rights.”

While accepting his award, Carson referenced recent efforts by state legislatures, including Tennessee, to quash school lessons about race that might cause “discomfort” to some students.

Carson stressed the necessity of confronting the honest facts of U.S. history.

Kennedy is the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy and the founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Organization.

Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were both killed by assassins the spring of 1968 – King in Memphis on April 4,1968 while advocating for striking sanitation workers and Kennedy in Los Angeles, California on June 5, 1968 while campaigning for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Kerry Kennedy spoke eloquently about MLK, mentioning that 60 years ago there was indifference to the plight of African Americans and that some whites there was no longer an obligation to support Black people because of the number of riots in major American cities, which sprung from Black Americans being fed up their plight.

Kerry Kennedy told the audience there still is a need to bind those wounds and noted that it was just 55 years ago that her father and Dr. Martin Luther King were assassinated.

She added that indifference leads to inaction, which poisons relationships in schools and homes, and breaks a person’s spirit.

Abrams, whose get-out-the efforts resulted her making a strong run for Georgia governor in 2018, narrowly losing to Republican Brian Kemp, and helping President Biden in Georgia in the 2020 presidential election.

Abrams encouraged her audience to continue to push for change, saying the fight is not finished and that she will continue to be a voice to march forward “and demand the change we want to see.”

She challenged the audience to join the “march on ballot boxes” by voting.



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