IN THESE RECENT DAYS OF UNREST in our nation, I am so happy to see the board of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Foundation join together to award our highest award, the Lincoln Leadership Prize, to the courageous individuals known as The Little Rock Nine. On September 25th, 1957, nine schoolchildren faced jeering crowds and National Guard units as they entered Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, while accompanied by a federal troop escort, courtesy of the 101st Airborne Division. Their attendance at the school was a historic triumph of the civil rights movement, ending racial segregation in public schools three years after it was deemed unconstitutional by the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Now, on Monday, May 18th, these remarkable individuals will become the first group ever to be awarded the Lincoln Leadership Prize at a gala to be held in Chicago at the Hilton Chicago. Previously, the Lincoln Leadership Prize has been awarded only to individuals. I hope that all of Chicago comes out to celebrate this historic occasion. It is an event that brings us together in brotherhood and unity for the human rights we all cherish.
THE EVENT IS BEING HELD during a week that marks the 61st anniversary of the Brown v Board of Education ruling. 2015 also happens to be the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment’s passage during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, which abolished slavery in the United States and was ratified eight months after the president’s death. Members of the Little Rock Nine scheduled to be attendance include Carlotta Walls LaNier, Melba Pattillo Beals, Ph.D., Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest G. Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Terence J. Roberts, Ph.D. and Thelma Mothershed Wair. The late Jefferson Thomas will be represented at the dinner by a family member.
PAST RECIPIENTS of the Lincoln Leadership Prize include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Bill Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg, astronaut James A. Lovell Jr., former Polish President Lech Walesa and the late television journalist Tim Russert.
“EQUAL ACCESS TO QUALITY EDUCATION was a cornerstone of the civil rights movement,” said LaNier, president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation. “Thinking back, it’s hard to believe there was a time when high school students had to be escorted by military guards just to attend class with their peers. But it’s more important now than ever that we remember, and learn from, our nation’s history.”
ICONIC NEWS ANCHOR BILL KURTIS will be the Master of Ceremonies and Golden Globe-winner Regina Taylor, the acclaimed actress/director/playwright (“I’ll Fly Away,” “Crowns”) will present the award to the Little Rock Nine.
JOINING ME AS CO-CHAIRS of the event will be Mark Furlong, BMO Harris Bank CEO; Carrie Hightman, NiSource Inc. executive vice-president and CLO; Paul La Schiazza, AT&T Illinois president; Raymond F. McCaskey, retired Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois CEO; and Edward J. Wehmer, Wintrust Financial Corporation president and CEO.
“WE ARE SO PLEASED TO AWARD this year’s prize to members of the Little Rock Nine for standing up for justice in the face of inequality, and for all of the work they’ve done to move our country forward since that day,” said Dr. Carla Knorowski, Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation. “As we celebrate their accomplishments, we are both grateful for the progress the civil rights movement has made over the past 150 years and are reminded of the significant work left to be done.”
THE LINCOLN LEADERSHIP PRIZE DINNER serves as a fundraiser for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. To purchase tickets or secure a table, please visit the Foundation’s official site or call its office at (217) 557-6251. The dinner and program begin at 7pm, with a reception at 6pm at the Hilton Chicago, 720 South Michigan Avenue.