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Mary Frances Berry

Author, Educator & Historian


There are few people like Mary Frances Berry. For over four decades, Berry has been one of the most recognized and respected voices in our nation’s civil rights, gender equality and social justice movements. Serving as Chairperson of the US Civil Rights Commission, Berry led the charge for equal rights and liberties for all Americans over the course of four Presidential administrations. A trailblazer for women and African Americans alike, she also became the first woman of any race to head a major research university, serving at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

You can always expect to find Mary Frances Berry leading the fight against inequality. One of the founders of the monumental Free South Africa Movement, Berry and her organization were instrumental in raising global awareness and abhorrence towards South African injustice, helping to end over 40 years of apartheid. Berry also served as Assistant Secretary for Education in the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, working to make these historically inequitable systems achieve a new level of fairness. A prolific author, Berry’s books cover a wide range of subjects, from the history of constitutional racism in America to the politics of parenthood. Her most recent book, Five Dollars and a Pork Chop Sandwich: Vote Buying and the Corruption of Democracy, is a timely and nonpartisan piece on voter manipulation and electoral corruption—and the importance of stimulating voter turnout and participation. Her other book, 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. She now acts a professor of American Social thought at the University of Pennsylvania.

Despite her years of success, Berry is never one to rest on her laurels. She continues to speak boldly for those who can’t speak for themselves. Her vision of social freedom and equality alongside her wisdom and candor, assure her place in the future agenda of America. With fierce determination, Berry never backs down. She educates, transforms, and inspires us all. Her clarion call challenges everyone to stand up, stand tall and to never give up the fight.


  • 1987- Present: Tenured chair at the University of Pennsylvania
  • 1993-2004: Appointed by President Bill Clinton as Chairperson of the Civil Rights Commission
  • 1984: Received Rosa Parks Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the President’s Award from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
  • 1990-1991: President of the Organization of American Historians
  • 1984: Co-founded the Free South Africa Movement
  • 1983: Received both the Roy Wilkins Civil Rights Award and Image Award from the NAACP
  • 1980-1993: Appointed by President Jimmy Carter as Commissioner on the US commission on Civil Rights
  • 1977-1980: Appointed by President Jimmy Carter as Assistant Secretary for education in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare


Fulfilling the Promise of the Voting Rights Act: Justice For All

In 2015, we commemorate the civil rights movement’s sacrifices in making the right to vote a centerpiece of its demands. Leaders of this movement successfully fought disenfranchisement with protests, lawsuits and legislation. Dr. Mary Frances Berry, a civil rights veteran, encourages audiences to learn from the past as we move towards the future. She suggests that winning the current fight against voter identification laws and other forms of voter suppression, including the Supreme Court decisions gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and campaign finance laws, is crucial.

Berry is writing a new book on how voter suppression and fraud in national, state and local campaigns influence the results. She explains how such goals as Medicaid expansion, fairness in sentencing, equitable education funding and fair and effective policing will remain elusive until we increase political participation and fairly enforce the voting rights laws.

Achieving Diversity & Opportunity in the 21st Century: “Now is the Time”

Achieving Justice & Opportunity in the Post-Obama ERA: Power, Legalities & Realities

The Emancipation Proclamation & the Civil Rights Movement: Making Social Change Necessary

Causes & Consequences of the New Migration: How the Civil Rights Movement Changed the South & America

Advancing Human Rights in the Post-Obama Era: Race, Sex & Legalities

The Meaning of Diversity in the Post-Obama Era

The Judicial Vacancy Crisis & Achieving Human Rights for All

School Reform: Successes & Failures

Suppressing the Vote: From Bush v. Gore to the Obama Era

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