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Mary Frances Berry

February 18, 2013
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Mary Frances Berry has been a Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania since 1987. In addition to her research, Dr. Berry teaches classes on the history of law and public, all while advising students in African American and legal History.

Professor Berry served as the Assistant Secretary for Education in the U.S. Department of Health Education, and Welfare under the Carter administration. In 1980, President Carter appointed her to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, where she served until 2004. When President Reagan attempted to fire her for criticizing his civil rights policies, Dr. Berry sued and won reinstatement. In 1993, President Clinton appointed her Chairperson of the Civil Rights Commission, a position she held until 2004. During her term, the Commission issued reports on the 2000 Florida Presidential Election, police practices in New York City, the state of Indian reservations, affirmative action, church burnings, and environmental justice.

In the 1980s, Dr. Berry was one of the founders of the Free South Africa Movement, where she led protests against apartheid despite being arrested and jailed numerous times. On February 11, 1990, Dr. Berry met Nelson Mandela upon his release after 27 years of imprisonment.

Professor Berry attended Howard University as an undergraduate and earned a J.D. and Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan. Professor Berry has also received 35 honorary doctoral degrees as well as numerous awards, including the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins Award, the Rosa Parks Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the American Bar Association’s Spirit of Excellence Award.

–Lauren Alcena CAS 13

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