Three renowned activists received the prestigious Freedom Award from Memphis’ National Civil Rights Museum on Wednesday.
Nigerian pro-democracy crusader Hafsat Abiola, feminist organizer Gloria Steinem and musician John Legend are the lastest recipeints of the honor for their contributions to human and civil rights. They join previous luminaries such as Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey.
At the Orpheum Theatre, the trio spoke about their work. Legend, who advocates for criminal justice reform, said racial inequality is a contemporary problem.
“American prisons are overflowing with black bodies,” he told a packed theater. “More black men are under correctional control today...than were enslaved in 1850.”
A major theme of the ceremony was the year 1619, or the 400th anniversary of what is often recognized as the beginning of the North American slave trade.
As the sole international recipient, Abiola pointed out that African history and U.S. history are inextricable, calling the slave trade an “interuption” to the African continent’s history.
“What humanity needs now is human reconnection,” said Abiola, who founded the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy. “That’s something that we need to do so can get back to human history that we need to be cultivating beyond this interruption.”
Steinem is best known for her prominent role in the feminist movement. She helped launch New York Magazine and has also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
She called the Museum's honor a “high point of my life.”