Saturday, October 4, 2003

Tonight's awards go to rights advocates

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] In Washington, D.C., Friday, Dorothy Height presents her newly published memoir to Sen. John Kerry, a Democratic presidential candidate.
(Getty Images photo)
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Two modern-day "freedom conductors" - a woman who championed civil rights in this country, and an organization that presses for human rights around the world - tonight will be presented the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center's highest honor.

About 1,000 people are expected at the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center when Dorothy Height and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights receive International Freedom Conductor Awards. Ethel Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy's widow, will accept on behalf of the human rights center. The event is sold out.

The award honors those who have made significant contributions to freedom and human rights.

PBS video and text of Q&A with Dorothy I. Height
RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Origin: The center's purpose is to commemorate the 19th-century history of the Underground Railroad, the informal network of "conductors" who aided escaping slaves, and link those historical lessons to contemporary issues of freedom.
Opening: Summer 2004.
Information: Web site
Height, 91, participated in almost every major civil-rights event of the 1960s, and was the lone woman among the movement's leadership. The RFK Memorial Center has worked for years to improve human rights conditions in places such as Kenya, South Africa, China and Haiti.

Rosa Parks received the first award in 1998. Her simple act of defiance - refusing in 1955 to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white man - energized the civil rights movement.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu was honored in 2000 for his efforts at ending racial oppression in his homeland.

The free blacks, white abolitionists, Quakers and others who assisted fleeing slaves along the Underground Railroad were called conductors.

Their spirit is reflected in the awards, which recognize "people who epitomize the ideals and characteristics we think are so important," said Spencer Crew, the Freedom Center's executive director and CEO.

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