Freedom Awards

Since 1991 the Freedom Award has served as a symbol of the ongoing struggle for rights both in America and worldwide.

Since 1991 the Freedom Award has served as a symbol of the ongoing struggle for rights both in America and worldwide. With this annual event, the National Civil Rights Museum has honored world dignitaries, past presidents, media luminaries, athletic legends, and more. The award is presented to 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.

An International Freedom Award is given to an individual whose work has global impact or has impacted the state of human and civil rights abroad. A National Freedom Award is presented to someone who has influenced civil and human rights within the United States. The Lifetime Achievement Freedom Award celebrates individuals who have devoted themselves and much of their professions to enriching the lives of many and championing change for several decades.

And since 2009, the Legacy Freedom Award has honored a new generation of leaders who embrace justice, equality, and opportunity and have made an impact on society early in their careers.



James Farmer, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks


Barbara Jordan, Desmond Tutu


Marian Wright Edelman


President Jimmy Carter, Thurgood Marshall


Dr. Dorothy Height, Elie Wiesel


Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Andrew Young


Colin Powell, Jackie Robinson


President Mikhail Gorbachev, Dr. Benjamin Hooks


Harry Belafonte, President Lech Walesa


President Nelson Mandela


President Oscar Arias, Sidney Poitier


Julian Bond, Rigoberta Menchu Tum


President Bill Clinton, Maxine Smith


Bono, John Lewis


Ruby Dee & Ossie Davis, Paul Rusesabagina, Oprah Winfrey


Dr. Bernard Kouchner, Dr. Joseph Lowery, Stevie Wonder


Dr. John Hope Franklin, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Earvin “Magic” Johnson


Al Gore, B.B. King, Diana Nash


The Dalai Lama, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Myrlie Evers-Williams


Dr. Dorothy Cotton, Eva Longoria, Dr. Wangari Mathaai


NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, Marva Collins, Dr. Bill Frist, Danny Glover, Hill Harper, Delores Huerta, Rev. Ed King, Rev. Samuel Kyles, Rev. James Lawson, Leola Brown Montgomery, Alonzo Mourning, Usher Raymond IV, Bill Russell, John Seigenthaler, Susan L. Taylor, Cicely Tyson, Rev. C.T. Vivian, Kirk Whalum


Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Marlo Thomas, The Three Doctors, Dr. Muhammad Yunus


Geoffrey Canada, Earl Graves Sr., President Mary Robinson




photograph by Dreamstime

“America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense
human rights invented America.” — Jimmy Carter

39th president of the United States. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.


photograph by Dreamstime

“Now we have black and white officials working together. Today, we have gone beyond just passing laws. Now we have to create a sense that we are one community, one family. Really, we are the American family.” — John Lewis

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (from Georgia) since 1987. One of the youngest of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders of the 1960s.


photograph by NCRM

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” — Rosa Parks

“The first lady of civil rights,” Parks stirred the movement by refusing to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1, 1955.


photograph by Dreamstime

“It is necessary to help others, not only in our prayers, but in our daily lives. If we find we cannot help others, the least we can do is to desist from harming them.” — The Dalai Lama

Lifelong advocate for Tibet. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.




photograph by NCRM

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.” — Nelson Mandela

Imprisoned for more than 27 years, Mandela led South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement,
becoming the country’s first black president in 1994.


photograph by Dreamstime

“It would be naïve to think that the problems plaguing mankind today can be solved with means and methods which were applied or seemed to work in the past.” — Mikhail Gorbachev

General secretary of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991.


photograph by Dreamstime

“You see, idealism detached from action is just a dream. But idealism allied with pragmatism, with rolling up your sleeves and making the world bend a bit, is very exciting. It’s very real. It’s very strong.” — Bono

Lead singer of the Irish rock band U2. Active in the fight against poverty and hunger in Africa, he was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2005.


photograph by NCRM

“In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources, and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the connection we see today between human rights, democracy, and peace.” — Wangari Maathai

Kenyan environmental and political activist. In 2004, she became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.


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