The Nashville Branch of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People held its 40th Freedom Fund Gala in the Davidson Ballroom of the Music City Center on September 21. The theme was a ‘Salute to Women of Vision.’ Dr. Mary Frances Berry gave the keynote address.
Dr. Berry is a Nashville native who attended Fisk University and Howard University, where she completed her bachelors’ degree. She earned Doctor of Philosophy in history and Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Michigan. The first African American woman to head a major research university as chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder, she was appointed U.S. Secretary of Education, and later named to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by President Jimmy Carter. In 1993, she was designated chair of the commission by President Bill Clinton and served until 2004.
The invocation by Rev. Gail S. Seavey, pastor of the First Unitarian Universalist Church, noted that women “taught us what the love of God is by nurturing us” and women also teach us what the justice of God is.
NAACP Nashville Branch President Dr. John Arradondo welcomed the several hundred in attendance and noted that the branch is in good condition, with four consecutive years of operating financially “in the black” with increases in paid membership each year, and an enrollment of over one million online advocates.
Dr. Arradondo briefly outlined the national NAACP agenda items such as addressing the assaults on Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act; ‘No Child Left Behind’; child health; environmental justice; health disparities; financial freedom; high quality publicly funded education from K-12; health; economic development; and voter empowerment. In addressing financial freedom, he said that “jobs are important, but wealth is more important” specifically noting the issues of home ownership and the racial disparities in educational attainment and personal net worth, declaring “the end point is the development of wealth.”
Dr. Arradondo noted a huge barrier to re-entering felons and others who have made mistakes in life, trying to move forward financially, is the ‘box on employment applications’ to be check if the applicant has ever been convicted. He encouraged support of the national movement to ‘Ban the Box!—because when it is checked the applicant never even gets an interview, much less a job.
Mistress of Ceremonies Vicki Yates led a ‘Salute to Women,’ with a video presentation featuring dozens of iconic women of vision from Harriett Tubman, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Jordan, and Wilma Rudolph to Oprah Winfrey, Hilary Clinton, and Michelle Obama, et al.
Young woman of vision Miss Elizabeth Kimbrough, president of the Nashville NAACP Junior Youth Council, enchanted the audience with a dramatic performance of ‘Ain’t I A Woman’ by Sojourner Truth and a dance routine to ‘This Girl Is On Fire’ by Alicia Keys.
The keynote message was delivered by Dr. Berry. She spoke about the women in the civil rights movement and how they were overlooked, noting that in any organization women do a majority of the work and are not given the credit for it they deserve. She addressed the many unnamed, unknown and unsung women in the movement, as well as in the entire struggle for civil rights. Women were not allowed to speak at the march on Washington, save the lone voice of Mahalia Jackson, who could be heard saying, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin!’ encouraging Dr. King to deliver one of the most famous speeches in history.
She also noted that while Rosa Parks is commonly considered to be a mild-mannered seamstress, in person she was extremely intellectual, very well spoken, and her ideas might have been considered radical for the time.