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A conversation with Professor Mary Frances Berry

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In this episode professor Mary Frances Berry discusses her work in US civil rights from Nixon through to the present day.  I also ask a personal question about how to stay motivated in the demanding and draining life of a professional activist.

Since her college years at Howard University, Mary Frances Berry has been one of the most visible activists in the cause of civil rights, gender equality and social justice in our nation. Serving as Chairperson of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Berry demanded equal rights and liberties for all Americans during four Presidential administrations. A pathbreaker, she also became the first woman to head a major research university, serving at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Berry also served as the principal education official in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, working to improve access and quality education in our schools.

In 2013 she was one of the recipients of the Nelson Mandela award from the South African Government for her role in organizing the Free South Africa Movement (FSAM) which helped to end apartheid. She was selected to speak by the South African Government representing FSAM at the national celebrationof the life legacy and values of Nelson Mandela, Washington National Cathedral in December 2013.

Berry’s publications include such subjects as the history of constitutional racism in America and child care and women’s rights. Power in Words: The Stories behind Barack Obama’s Speeches, from the State House to the White House, offers insight and historical context of President Obama’s most memorable speeches. Her latest book, Five Dollars and a Porkchop Sandwich: Vote Buying and the Corruption of Democracy explains that some campaign voter turnout activities are just another form of voter suppression. We Are We Say We Are: A Black Family’s Search for Home across the Atlantic World offers a new angle of vision for looking at racial identity, demography and migration as themes of our national history.

Berry is a fellow of the Society of American Historians and the National Academy of Public Administration. In 2014 she was named a Distinguished Fellow of the American Society for Legal History, the highest honor the Society can award. Since 1988, she has been the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought, History, and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

As Berry continues her research, writing and activism, she insists that each generation has the responsibility to make a dent in the wall of injustice. In her latest book, History Teaches Us to Resist: How Progressive Movements Have Succeeded in Challenging Times, she recounts many of the protests in which she was active, analyzes their organizing strategies, and considers the lessons we can learn from them.


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