October 11, 2010

Johnson Medals to honor champions of civil and human rights

The medals honor the legacy of James Weldon Johnson, pioneering leader of the civil rights movement.

Emory's James Weldon Johnson Institute will honor seven individuals whose achievements in civil rights, law, and humanitarian service reflect a deep and unwavering commitment to civil and human rights.

The 2010 James Weldon Johnson Medals, to be awarded on Monday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. at The Carter Center, honor the legacy and accomplishments of Johnson, the legendary writer, journalist, civil rights leader, musician and humanitarian.

The 2010 Johnson Medalists are:

•  Lucy Cline Huie, for humanitarian service. An Emory alum, Huie '39Ox -'42G is co-founder of HOPE, a civil rights project whose purpose was to desegregate public schools in Jonesboro, Ga., in the 1940s and 50s. Huie courageously defied the white supremacists of Jonesboro and Clayton County. Her archive documenting this period in Georgia's civil rights history is in Emory's Manuscript, Archive, and Rare Book Library.

Deborah E. Lipstadt, for humanitarian service. Lipstadt is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at the Tam Institute at Emory. A courageous defender of the truth of the Holocaust, she is the author of the prize-winning "History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving."

Joseph E. Lowery, for civil rights. Lowery '10H was vice president and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, still one of the leading civil rights organizations in the nation established by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Lowery is the founder of the Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights at Clark Atlanta University, and was awarded the National Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Robert (Bob) P. Moses, for civil rights. Founder of The Algebra Project, Moses was a pivotal organizer for the civil rights movement as field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and was director of SNCC's Mississippi Project. He was a driving force behind the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964 in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged the Mississippi regulars at the 1964 Democratic Convention.

• Justice Leah Ward Sears, for law. Sears '80L is an Emory trustee and a partner in the Atlanta law firm Schiff Hardin. She was appointed in 1992 by Gov. Zell Miller to Georgia's Supreme Court where she became the first woman, and the youngest person to sit on the court. From 2005-2009 she served as chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.

• The late Sondra K. Wilson, for humanitarian service. Wilson was a leading scholar of James Weldon Johnson and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Wilson was executor of the Estate of Grace Nail and James Weldon Johnson, and the founder of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Foundation, which for more than a decade awarded the James Weldon Johnson Medal. (The Johnson Institute is the custodian of the Johnson Medal.)

• Ambassador Andrew J. Young, for civil rights. The former mayor of Atlanta, Young was a congressman and was a top aid to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is the founding principal and co-chairman of Good Works International of Atlanta.

The mistress and master of ceremonies are, respectively, actress Regina Taylor and Rudolph P. Byrd, Goodrich C. White Professor of American Studies and founding director of the Johnson Institute.

Johnson's hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing" will begin the evening.  President Jim Wagner will deliver the welcome and also serve as a reader for a Johnson medalist. Each medal will be presented following a reading from Johnson's works by special guests from Emory and Atlanta, including former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

Discussion for reflection

The following day, on Nov. 9, the medalists will take part in a colloquium panel discussion on campus for undergraduate students. "Lessons Learned Along This Way" will be from noon to 1 p.m. in White Hall 208. The medalists will share the factors that shaped their commitment to social justice, and then engage in conversation with the audience.

"As they implement their own civil and human rights projects, this is a special opportunity for Emory students to be in dialogue at the colloquium," says Byrd, particularly with medalist Moses, who co-founded the SNCC 50 years ago.

"This is an important anniversary in our national history that marks the founding of a student-led organization committed to social justice that had a profound impact upon the direction of the civil rights movement," notes Byrd.

Ceremony supports programs

The Johnson Medal is one of the signature programs of the Johnson Institute, and is its principal fundraiser.  Tickets are $30, and $20 for students. All funds raised through this award ceremony provide ongoing and future support of the institute's various programs.

Advance tickets are available through the Emory Alumni Association. The Coca-Cola Company is sponsoring the ceremony as a Founding Corporate Sponsor of the Johnson Institute.

"The Johnson Medal Award Ceremony is an occasion when we may reclaim and reaffirm our commitment to the greatest social movement of the 20th century," says Byrd, offering the Emory and Atlanta community a chance to "pause to reflect upon our relationship to a living history that has provided us with a knowledge of our condition."

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