May 01, 2015 Waymaker

Civil Rights Pioneer: Frankie Muse Freeman

By Judge Nannette A. Baker

Frankie Muse Freeman’s accomplishments are too numerous to list, but I will try to do justice to her life and legacy. Freeman was born in the segregated South in 1916. Her college-educated parents encouraged her to become an attorney and supported her education, first at Hampton Institute and later at Howard University School of Law, where she graduated second in her class in 1947. As one of the first women in the legal profession in St. Louis, Missouri, Freeman had a passion for civil rights cases. Early in her career, she became part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) legal team that challenged discriminatory laws. In 1954, she was lead attorney for the landmark NAACP case Davis et al. v. The St. Louis Housing Authority, which ended legal racial discrimination in public housing in St. Louis. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Freeman to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She was the first woman to serve on the Commission and was reappointed by presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter.

Throughout her life, Mrs. Freeman has worked tirelessly for the cause of racial justice and equality. She was instrumental in forming the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, a group committed to ending racial discrimination and devising remedies that would counteract its harmful effects. In 1999, Mrs. Freeman led (with William H. Danforth) a task force to oversee a landmark settlement that ended segregation in the St. Louis public schools. In 2006, the pair also led an advisory committee to analyze and improve the St. Louis schools.

Mrs. Freeman was inducted into the National Bar Association’s Hall of Fame in 1990. She received the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP in 2011, and in 2014 she received the Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. In 2003, Mrs. Freeman wrote a book about her life and career, A Song of Faith and Hope: The Life of Frankie Muse Freeman. Now, at the age of 98, Mrs. Freeman remains engaged in public service. In February 2015, President Barack Obama appointed Mrs. Freeman to serve as a member of the Commission on Presidential Scholars. Her impact on St. Louis and the nation at large will be felt for generations to come. Frankie Muse Freeman is a true inspiration and is a Waymaker in every sense of the word.

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