Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Freedom’s Sisters Exhibit Opens at Museum of Tolerance

By Darlene Donloe

Freedom’s Sisters, an emotional exhibit that tells the story of African American women who changed the world, is currently on display at the Museum of Tolerance. 
The interactive exhibition honors 20 African American women who have worked for freedom and equality in America.

The honorees include: Ella J. Baker, Mary McLeod Bethune, Shirley Chisholm, Septima Poinsette Clark, Kathleen Cleaver, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Fannie Lou Hamer, Frances Watkins Harper, Dorothy Irene Height, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Barbara Jordan, Coretta Scott King, Constance Baker Motley, Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, Sonia Sanchez, Betty Shabazz, Mary Church Terrell, Harriet Ross Greene Tubman, C. Delores Tucker and Ida B. Wells-Barnett.

A star-studded tribute honoring the 20, as well as 43 women in Los Angeles who were recognized as local Freedom’s Sisters, took place Tuesday night (Sept. 13) at the Museum of Tolerance. The event was co-hosted by Kevin Frazier (The Insider) and Holly Robinson Peete (The Talk/For Your Love).

Of the 20, Myrlie Evers Williams and Dr. Sonia Sanchez were present.
“I call this exhibit the thunder of angels,” said Sanchez. “I’m honored to be part of this exhibit. It’s important to bring children to the exhibit. Bring humanity back into the classroom.  When you see this exhibit, we will learn how to wear our days well.”

“There is the whole of me that says to the God I worship, ‘I thank you for all the blessings and allowing me to look deep inside this world…and say, it’s worth it,’” said Evers Williams, who revealed she is 78. “As women we need to stand up, stand tall and stand brave.  We need to give credit to those who deserve it. But, understand, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Of the 43 being honored, several were on hand including KCBS news anchor Pat Harvey, artists Phoebe Beasley and Samella Lewis, actress Denise Nicholas, Rosie Lee Hooks (actress and director of the Watts Towers Arts Center), sculptor Artis Lane, Avis Ridley Thomas (Los Angeles city attorney’s office) and former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Rita Walters.

“I feel very honored to be in the same company as these women,” said Walters. “This exhibit means these women and the work they’ve done is being recognized. These women are inspiring. They were there the whole time. This has been women’s role throughout history.”

Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance, called Freedom’s Sisters a “remarkable exhibition.”
“I’m humbled to be in the presence of two of the Freedom’s Sisters,” said Geft referring to Evers Williams and Sanchez. “You are our role models today. Special stories are best told in special places. This is a catalyst for change. I want everyone to be inspired by their stories.”

“Projects like this allow us to share an important part of our history,” said Lori Yarrish, deputy director of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, one of the collaborators for Freedom’s Sisters.
Organized around the themes of “Dare to Dream,” “Inspire Lives,” “Serve the Public,” and “Look to the Future,” interactive stations and images bring the women’s stories to life. The multimedia retrospective is a collaborative effort between the Cincinnati Museum Center, Ford Motor Company and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).
The exhibit does not diminish the efforts and accomplishments made by the male leaders, but rather highlights the contributions of African American women.

“We haven’t done all that we can to honor the sisters,” said Pamela Alexander, director of Community Development and Fund Operations Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services. Freedom’s Sisters tells the story of women that have previously been untold. I don’t mean to understate their actions by saying that. But, the reality is that the contributions of these 20 women and so many other Freedom’s Sisters who maybe aren’t listed in the exhibit, were literally the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement. And, in so many ways, they didn’t receive the recognition that they deserve.”

Freedom’s Sisters, conceived by the Ford Motor Company Fund (the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company), opened on March 15, 2008 at the Cincinnati Museum Center and has toured nine locations across the U.S. over a three-year period. The exhibit will conclude in Harlem, New York.
In addition to the exhibit, Freedom’s Sisters, which has educational and community outreach initiatives, includes an essay contest in which Ford will award $10,000 in scholarships to local 4th-8th grade students.
Also recognized that evening for their contributions to the project were actors Blair Underwood (The Event), James Pickens Jr.(Grey’s Anatomy) and Kevin Frazier (whose great aunt is Septima Poinsette Clark).

Other celebrities in attendance included Natalie Cole, Marla Gibbs, CCH Pounder and Bernie Casey.
At the celebration, singer Deniece Williams brought the house down singing her hit song, “Black Butterfly,” as a tribute to all the Freedom’s Sisters.
“To be in the company of these women is encouraging,” said Williams. “They are remarkable. I can sit and listen to them for hours.”
Said Kevin Frazier, who has traveled with the exhibit from the beginning, ‘traveling with these women is like an education. These women’s stories need to be told.”
Freedom’s Sisters, Museum of Tolerance, Simon Wiesenthal Plaza, 9786 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; Sept 14, 2011-Jan. 8, 2012; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; closed Saturday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.; $11-$15; (310) 553-8403 or

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