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Lawyer Frankie Freeman to receive NAACP's top honor

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 10, 2011 - St. Louis lawyer Frankie M. Freeman is being honored with the Spingarn Medal, the highest award of the NAACP, which gives out only one such medal annually. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., took note of the award today in remarks on the Senate floor.

"Frankie Freeman is an amazing story. She is 94 years old and still has the passion to serve her community," McCaskill said. "I am so proud of her for being honored for this recognition of her lifelong dedication to justice and civil rights. She is such an inspiration to me and she has been an inspiration to thousands of young people during her life ... an inspiration for what she stands for, and what she has accomplished during her lifetime."

As the senator's office also noted in a statement: "After opening her own law firm in 1947, (Freeman) won several landmark cases, including one which ended legal discrimination in public housing in the city. McCaskill will take the opportunity to highlight Freeman's many accomplishments on behalf of the fight for equal rights for all."

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, praised Freeman in a statement on Friday:

"Frankie Freeman is a legal legend whose contributions as a civil rights attorney and as the first female member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission changed this country forever," Clay said. "Frankie has been a good friend and mentor of mine for almost 30 years. Her inspired advocacy laid the groundwork for the Federal Voting Rights Act, ended racial discrimination in public housing, and provided dedicated oversight of the St. Louis Public Schools and the voluntary desegregation plan. She is truly a national treasure and is most deserving of this high honor."

The NAACP saysthat Freeman is the 96th recipient of the medal and will be honored July 28 during the NAACP's national convention in Los Angeles.

According to the association, "The Spingarn Medal, instituted in 1914 by then-NAACP Chairman Joel E. Spingarn, is awarded for outstanding and noble achievement by an American of African descent during the preceding years."

"Frankie Muse Freeman has dedicated her life's work to the civil rights movement," said NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock in a statement. "She broke down barriers as a member of the NAACP's brain trust during the 1950s and as the first woman to serve on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Her determination to end racial discrimination in American society for more than half a century serves as an inspiration to us all."

As the NAACP notes: "Freeman has been a practicing attorney in state and federal courts for more than 60 years. After graduating Hampton Institute and Howard University Law School, she began her career serving the state of Missouri and the city of St. Louis. During this time she helped the NAACP in the case of Brewton vs. Board of Education of St. Louis, and later represented the NAACP in the landmark case Davis et al vs. the St. Louis Housing Authority, which ended legal racial discrimination in public housing."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.