Civil rights educator Dr. Mary Frances Berry


Open VISIONS Forum, a distinguished lecture series of University College at Fairfield University, celebrates Black History Month with Mary Frances Berry, Ph. D., J.D., who has been recognized for her tireless efforts on behalf of civil rights, equality and African Americans.

On Thursday, Feb. 22, at 8 p.m., Dr. Berry, past chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, will speak at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. For tickets, visit www.quickcenter.com or call (203) 254-4010 or 1-877-ARTS-396. The event is co-sponsored with Fairfield University's Center for Multi-Cultural Relations and is funded, in part, by the Patrick J. Waide, Jr. Fund for Ethics and Public Policy.

Throughout her years as an educator, administrator, activist, attorney and author, Dr. Berry has helped enlighten the public about the black experience, black history, civil rights and equality. In the book, "I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America" by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Brian Lanker, she was recognized alongside Barbara Jordan, Shirley Chisholm, Oprah Winfrey, and Althea Gibson as being an individual who propelled the country forward. The African American Registry calls her "a true Black conscience." Siena College Research Institute and the Women's Hall of Fame picked her as one of "America's Women of the Century."

Yohuru R. Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of history and co-director of the Black Studies Program of the College of Arts and Sciences, said he plans to engage Dr. Berry in a dialogue about the present state of race relations in the United States. "I would like to ask her for her thoughts on how far we¹ve come in addressing the issues of racial injustice and social inequality that continue to plague our society despite the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts."

Philip Eliasoph, Ph. D., the director and moderator of Open VISIONS Forum, said, "As Open VISIONS Forum is essentially a dynamic classroom and Dr. Berry a great teacher, they are a perfect fit. She is an individual who will undoubtedly enlighten us with her extensive knowledge of the journey of civil rights in our country."

For the past 20 years, Dr. Berry has been the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. She once wrote about the law, "Law is a wondrous thing to behold when it works in favor of a cause we care about, when we see our power extended in the world. Law, however, is a monstrous thing when it weighs in on the other side. In a period of retreat on human rights issues, when the fight for social justice is not popular, the law is too often monstrous."

Her exemplary career in public service includes a 24-year stretch of service from 1980 to 2004 as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which, among its many goals, appraises federal laws with respect to discrimination or denial of equal protection of the laws because of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin. President Carter appointed her to the Commission, an appointment confirmed by the Senate.

When President Regan fired her for criticizing his civil rights policies, she sued him in federal district court and won reinstatement. President Clinton designated her chairperson of the Civil Rights Commission in 1993. During her time as chair, the Commission issued notable reports on police practices in New York City, the 2000 Florida Presidential Elections, and affirmative action. She resigned in 2004. Her public service also includes an appointment as assistant secretary for education in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, from 1977 to 1980.

Dr. Berry was awarded the NAACP's Roy Wilkins Award and the Rosa Parks Award of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Ebony Magazine Black Achievement Award.

She is the author of books on American justice, women's rights, child care, racism and other provocative issues. They include "My Face is Black is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations" (2005); "The Pig Farmer's Daughter and Other Tales of American Justice: Episodes of Racism and Sexism in the Courts from 1865 to the Present" (1999); "Black Resistance, White Law: A History of Constitutional Racism in America" (1994, orig. 1971); and "The Politics of Parenthood: Child Care, Women's Rights, and the Myth of the Good Mother" (1993) .

Dr. Berry received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan and her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. Dr. Berry was the provost of the University of Maryland, and also served as chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The Center for Multicultural Relations serves students, student organizations and the Fairfield University community through leadership development and training, personal advisement and counseling; cultural activities and events; and organizational support. These programs are facilitated in collaboration with students, faculty, administrators, staff and alumni.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on February 2, 2007

Vol. 39, No. 136