American Bar Association Honors St. Louis Civil Rights Attorney Frankie Muse Freeman with National Spirit of Excellence Award

Feb. 12, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, MO – St. Louis Civil Rights attorney Frankie Muse Freeman received a 2014 Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession during an award ceremony luncheon on February 8 at the American Bar Association Mid-Year Meeting in Chicago.

The Spirit of Excellence Award celebrates the efforts and accomplishments of lawyers who excel in their professional settings; who personify excellence on the national, state or local level; and who have demonstrated a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession. Freeman has dedicated her life’s work to the civil rights movement.

“I have much less energy than I did 40, 50, or 60 years ago, but this honor has energized me,” said Freeman at the 2014 Spirit of Excellence Award ceremony. “I try to be a servant and try to make a difference. I am only 97 and I can still help and do something. I plan to do that because we need more diversity, and we can learn from each other.”

Freeman received her law degree from Howard University Law School in 1947 and began her practice in St. Louis. In 1952, Freeman was the lead attorney for the landmark case Davis et. al. v. the St. Louis Housing Authority, which successfully challenged racial segregation in public housing. She served as legal counsel to the NAACP legal team that filed suit against the St. Louis Board of Education in 1954 for racial equality. In 1964, Freeman was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson as the first women to serve on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She was subsequently reappointed by presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, and held the position until 1979. She also was instrumental in creating the Citizen’s Commission on Civil Rights. In 1999, she led a task force to oversee a landmark settlement that ended segregation in St. Louis-area public schools.

St. Louis attorney Bill Bay, a member of the ABA House of Delegates and the ABA’S Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, introduced Freeman at the award ceremony. He said Freeman truly embodies the spirit of the award.

“She has spent nearly a century promoting a more racially and ethnically diverse profession, more integrated schools and housing, and a better and more just society,” Bay said.

“She is truly awe-inspiring,” Jack Brady, president of The Missouri Bar, said of Freeman who has been a member of The Missouri Bar for 66 years. “She serves as a role model for so many attorneys, reminding us that we should never stop working to make sure we leave our corner of the world better than how we found it.”

Freeman has received many awards and recognitions for her work, including honorary doctorate degrees from Hampton University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Saint Louis University, Washington University in St. Louis and Howard University. In 1990, she was inducted into the National Bar Association’s Hall of Fame. In 2007, she was honored with a place on the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta. She also received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Spingarn Medal and the Hannah G. Solomon Founder’s Award in 2011. That same year she was named St. Louis’ Citizen of the Year. In 2003, she published her memoir, “A Song of Faith and Hope: The Life of Frankie Muse Freeman.”


Spirit of Excellence Award recipients (left to right): Leo M. Romero, Wendy C. Shiba, I.S. Leevy Johnson, Frankie Muse Freeman, Brenda Harbin-Forte, Patricia D. Lee and Benjamin F. Wilson

For more information, including video of Freeman’s remarks at the 2014 Spirit of Excellence Awards, please visit: http://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2014/02/2014_spirit_of_excel.html.

The Missouri Bar is a statewide organization that is dedicated to improving the legal profession, the law and the administration of justice for all Missourians. Created in 1944 by order of the Supreme Court of Missouri, it serves all 30,000 of Missouri’s practicing attorneys. To achieve its mission, The Missouri Bar provides a wide range of services and resources to its members, as well as the media, educators and the citizens of Missouri. To learn more about The Missouri Bar, visit www.mobar.org.

 

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