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University of Mississippi

Former Gov. William Winter Latest to Join National Civil Rights Museum Honorees

UM Alumni, Guests are Among Prominent Freedom Award Recipients


The Honorable Gov. William Winter will receive a 2016 Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis this month. Photo

The Honorable Gov. William Winter will receive a 2016 Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis this month. Photo by Kevin Bain

When former Gov. William F. Winter (BA history and political science ’43 JD ’49) receives a National Civil Rights Museum 25th annual Freedom Award Oct. 20 in Memphis, no doubt University of Mississippi administrators, staff and faculty will take great pride in having the renowned former governor as both an alumnus and founder of the Institute for Racial Reconciliation here that bears his name.

Obviously, Winter is most deserving of the prestigious honor. Both in and out of office, the Grenada County native has accomplished a long list of achievements advancing education, civil rights and economic growth for the state of Mississippi and beyond. Of course, his UM education has contributed to his legendary career.

Yet a quick look at past years shows that Winter is not the first Freedom Award recipient to have connections to the university. At least six others have spoken or performed on campus.

For starters, fellow 2016 recipient Soledad O’Brien delivered the keynote address during UM’s 2014 Black History Month observances. The former CNN anchor’s lecture and presentation preceded the #BlackLivesMatter movement and helped advance conversations about race and race relations.

NBC News veteran Tom Brokaw received the Freedom Award in 2014. He has broadcast live from campus, delivered the 2016 commencement address and been a visiting lecturer in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

Civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams also delivered the commencement address from the Grove in 2014. The widow of slain activist Medgar Evers received her Freedom Award in 2009.

Freedom Award logoKnown as “King of the Blues,” Mississippi-born guitarist and singer Riley “B.B.” King was given the Freedom Award in 2008. Before his death, King appeared in concert here several times and donated his record collection and memorabilia to the J.D. Williams Library’s Archives and Special Collections.

Legendary actor and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte is a 1999 recipient of the Freedom Award. Like O’Brien, he delivered the keynote address during Black History Month observances in 2015.

Lastly, author Elie Weisel, who won the Nobel Prize for his autobiography “Night,” was a Freedom Award recipient in 1995. The late author gave the keynote address during the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College‘s annual Fall Convocation in 2013.

Several other Freedom Award recipients have had significant connections to Mississippi history.

A 2014 honoree, Robert “Bob” Parris Moses is an educator and civil rights activist whose name is synonymous with the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. As a leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Moses traveled to counties in Mississippi to educate and register voters, facing relentless violence and intimidation. By 1964, he had become co-director of the Council of Federated Organizations, an umbrella organization for the major civil rights groups working in Mississippi.

The Rev. Ed King, 2011 recipient, worked closely with Mississippi Movement leader Medgar Evers and was a key leader in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party with Fannie Lou Hamer.

A 2005 honoree, native Mississippian Oprah Winfrey has created an unparalleled connection with people around the world. As supervising producer and host of the top-rated “Oprah Winfrey Show,” she has entertained, enlightened and uplifted millions of viewers for more than two decades.

In 1964, John Lewis coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voters’ registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. Forty years later, he received a Freedom Award in 2004.

The Freedom Award is an annual event for the National Civil Rights Museum. Presented each year in the fall, the Freedom Award honors 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. Since 1991, the Freedom Award has served as a symbol of the ongoing fight for human rights both in America and worldwide.

The event will be held at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts and the Memphis Cook Convention Center. Sponsors of this year’s awards are the Ford Motor Co., The Hyde Family Foundation, FedEx Corp. and International Paper. The event will be hosted by Michael Eric Dyson, who delivered the keynote address during UM Black History Month observances in 2015.

Besides Winter and O’Brien, this year’s honorees include Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice; Tawakkol Karman, a Yemini journalist and the second youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; Damon Jerome Keith, the longest serving judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Court; and Brian Stevenson, a clinical professor at the New York University School of Law and an attorney who works for equality for the poor and minorities in the U.S. criminal justice system.