MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – The National Museum of Freedom’s 34th annual Civil Rights Awards honor individuals who have dedicated their lives to changing the world and their commitment to civil rights.
This year’s honorees include two Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and a Memphis businessman who have contributed to putting the city of Bluff on the international stage.
Every year, Memphians march into downtown Memphis to honor the contributions of civil and human rights leaders, dressed to impress.
The first honoree to take the stage Thursday night was Taylor Branch.
Branch is an award-winning author, producer, and public speaker whose “America in the Age of Empire” trilogy traced the life and civil rights legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. He is to make a documentary about the King in the last years of his life.
Branch shared what this honor means to him.
“It means I haven’t wasted my working life, so I’m very happy,” Branch said. “I’m very happy to be back in Memphis. I’ve been coming here since 1982, when I started doing research in 1982, so I’m glad to be back.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson’s story focuses on the Great Migration, the mass movement of African Americans fleeing the prejudice and racism of the Jim Crow South.
She says being honorable means everything.
“It’s a collection of so many things that I do, so it’s so amazing and wonderful and just magical to be here,” Wilkerson said. “It really is.”
The third and final recipient of the award was FedEx Corporation founder and CEO Fred Smith.
Nearly fifty years ago, Smith helped rebuild the city years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Currently, FedEx is the largest employer in Memphis.
Smith was honored for her commitment to diversity and opening the door to opportunity.
“How many great African Americans built FedEx … from pilots to senior vice presidents and engineers to deliver people,” said Fred Smith. “I mean … it was all about giving people a chance.”
Thursday’s ceremony will also include a special tribute to Jeffrey Robbins, executive director of the Who We Are Project, for his work in criminal and racial justice reform.
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