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Background & Purpose

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, in partnership with Ford Motor Company, launched the Ford Freedom Award program in 1999. The concept of the program is to create a forum to celebrate and recognize individuals whose achievements brought forth lasting and positive change for African Americans – and the world.


The Ford Freedom Award is an annual fundraiser for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the world’s largest institution dedicated to the African-American experience. The Museum houses over 30,000 artifacts and archival materials and is home to the Blanche Caggin Underground Railroad Collection; the Sheffield Collection, a repository of documents of the labor movement in Detroit; the interactive, multi-leveled exhibit, And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History, and the Terrazzo tile creation, “Ring of Genealogy,” by Hubert Massey.


Award Recipients

The Ford Freedom Award program recognizes two recipients:

  • Ford Freedom Award Honoree – presented posthumously to a distinguished African American who has dedicated his/her life to improving the African American community and the world at large through their chosen field: Arts, Humanities, Religion, Business, Politics, Sports, Science, Entertainment, etc.
  • Ford Freedom Award Scholar – presented to an African American who has excelled on a national or international level in the field of the Ford Freedom Award Honoree. The Scholar serves as a living legacy, carrying forth the ideals of the Honoree and has in his/her own way, furthered those achievements for a new generation.


Program Components

The Ford Freedom Award program consists of four main components:

  • Gala Reception & Awards Ceremony: This black-tie strolling dinner and awards presentation recognize and celebrate the Ford Freedom Award Honoree, the Ford Freedom Award Scholar, and occasionally, a distinction award recipient(s), and includes a video tribute to all recipients.
  • Scholar’s Lecture: The Scholar addresses nearly 1,500 grade-school students about the achievements of the Ford Freedom Award Honoree and shares his/her thoughts, experiences, and guidance in an effort to inspire and engage future leaders.
  • Nameplate Installation: A brass nameplate bearing the Honoree’s name is unveiled, and Ford Freedom Award Recipients join Museum and Ford representatives to officially install the nameplate into the Museum’s “Ring of Genealogy,” joining the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall and Mary McLeod Bethune.
  • Essay Contest: More than 2,000 public, private, parochial and home-school students, grades 4th-8th, participate in this annual essay contest, which in 2008 asked students to express, “I am free because…” A first, second and third place winner, along with two honorable mentions, each receive U.S. Savings Bonds, a medal and a Certificate of Merit. Students who did not place receive a Certificate of Participation.


Past Recipients

The Ford Freedom Award Program has proudly celebrated the contributions of:

2011: Judges Constance Baker Motley and Damon J. Keith - Champions of Justice
2010: John H. Johnson and Usher Raymond IV – The Empire Builder & The Dream Maker
Ed Bradley and Robin Roberts – The Storyteller & The Story Breaker

2008: Coretta Scott King and Dr. Dorothy I. Height – The Freedom Sister & The Freedom Fighter
2007: Dr. Charles B. Purvis and Dr. Ben Carson – The Medical Maverick & The Miracle Worker
2006: Ossie Davis and Morgan Freeman – The Groundbreaker & The Captivator
2005: Ella Fitzgerald and Al Jarreau – The Songstress & The Stylist
2004: Dr. Benjamin E. Mays and Dr. William H. Cosby, Jr. – The Educator & The Innovator
2003: General Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. and Dr. Mae C. Jemison – The Aviator & The Explorer
2002: Jackie Robinson and Reggie Jackson – The Barrier Breaker & The Record Maker
2001: Langston Hughes and Sonia Sanchez – The Vanguard & The Visionary
2000: Sammy Davis, Jr. and Gregory Hines – The Pathfinder & The Prodigy
1999: Mayor Coleman A. Young and Ambassador Andrew Young – The Streetfighter & The Statesman


Special Awards of Distinction:

2008: Rev. Samuel "Billie" Kyles – Legacy Award
Nelson Mandela – Humanitarian
2006: Woodie King, Jr. – Pioneer
2003: Bessie Coleman – Pioneer


Television Special

A 30-minute show, produced by WXYZ-TV (ABC-affiliate), features segments or vignettes on the Ford Freedom Award Honoree and Scholar. To add lasting value to the show and the Ford Freedom Award program, the show’s producers and coordinators attempt to reach out to nationally-recognized individuals to contribute their comments and thoughts (on-camera) regarding the current year’s honoree and scholar. The show also includes information on the Ford Freedom Award program and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.


Educational Outreach

In partnership with Ford Motor Company and the Museum, the DNIE, a non-profit organization created to provide curriculum-based, newspaper-style materials to classrooms in Michigan, produces a 16-page newspaper supplement that celebrates the lives of the Ford Freedom Award recipients as well as profile individuals who have excelled in the same fields of endeavor as those honorees.  Each year the supplement theme, as well as a companion 12-page teacher's guide and a full-color classroom poster, are based on the theme chosen for the Ford Freedom Award that year.  For example, in 2010, the Ford Freedom Award program paid tribute to accomplishments in Entrepreneurism.

All student activities in the materials are designed to help teachers meet Michigan Curriculum Standards for students in grades 4 and up. Additionally, all materials are provided free of charge to classrooms across Michigan thanks to a Ford Motor Company Fund & Community Services sponsorship. Annually, approximately 60,000 to 90,000 copies of the supplement are distributed to schools in 82 of Michigan's 83 counties as well as Toledo, Ohio.