The Maryville University community mourns the passing of Frankie Muse Freeman, Civil Rights icon and the inaugural recipient of Maryville’s Sister Mary Byles Peace and Justice Prize in recognition of her extraordinary service and lifelong commitment to social justice. She passed away on Friday, Jan. 12, at the age of 101 years old.
“The Honorable Frankie Muse Freeman was a Civil Rights pioneer and hero,” said Tom Eschen, vice president for institutional advancement. “It’s appropriate that she would leave us during the week commemorating the life, vision and mission of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for she was not only a contemporary of Dr. King, she was a tireless, courageous and fierce advocate of his ideals and dreams.”
‘While she will be missed, her legacy will shine brightly for generations to come.’
In April 2016, Ms. Freeman was honored as the inaugural recipient of The Sister Mary Byles Peace and Justice Award, by Maryville University. The Byles Peace and Justice Prize recognizes and honors those whose lives and work focus on issues of peace and justice and draws attention to the moral and ethical issues still existing in modern society.
“We were honored that she came to campus to accept the award and share her thoughts with the Maryville community, and that she would later donate her working desk to Maryville University,” Eschen said. “While she will be missed, her legacy will shine brightly for generations to come.”
Freeman began her career serving St. Louis and the state of Missouri more than 60 years ago, after graduating from Hampton Institute and Howard University Law School. She assisted the NAACP in the case of Brewton v. Board of Education of St. Louis and also represented the NAACP in Davis et al v. the St. Louis Housing Authority, a landmark case which ended legal racial discrimination in public housing.
Nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 as the first woman Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Freeman was reappointed by Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter, remaining in this capacity for a total of 16 years. Freeman also served under President Carter as inspector general of the Community Services Administration. She was past chair of the Board of Directors of the National Council on the Aging, Inc., and served on the executive committee of the St. Louis City NAACP.
Among her many honors, Freeman was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in 2007 and the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 2015. She was appointed by President Obama to the Commission on Presidential Scholars in 2015.
Her 2003 memoir is entitled A Song of Faith and Hope: The Life of Frankie Muse Freeman.