For more than four decades, Dr. Mary Frances Berry has been one of the most visible and respected activists in the cause of civil rights, gender equality and social justice. Serving as Chairperson of the US Civil Rights Commission, Dr. Berry led the charge for equal rights and liberties for all Americans over the course of four Presidential administrations. A trailblazer for women and African-Americans alike, she also became the first woman of any race to head a major research university as Chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches the history of American law and the history of law and social policy.
Dr. Berry made history as one of the founders of the monumental Free South Africa Movement (FSAM). She received the Nelson Mandela award from the South African Government for her role in organizing the FSAM, raising global awareness of South African injustice that helped to end over 40 years of apartheid. She also served as Assistant Secretary for Education in the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, working to make these historically inequitable systems achieve a new level of fairness. A prolific author, Dr. Berry’s books cover a wide range of subjects, from the history of constitutional racism in America to the history of progressive activism. Her latest book, History Teaches Us to Resist: How Progressive Movements Have Succeeded in Challenging Times, examines the successful tactics of movements that ended the Vietnam War, jumpstarted government response to the AIDS epidemic, championed the Americans with Disabilities Act and advanced civil, women’s and LGBTQ rights—all of which she was a part of. Her previous book, Power in Words: The Stories behind Barack Obama’s Speeches, from the State House to the White House, offers insight and historical context of President Obama’s most memorable speeches.
A moving speaker who makes history come alive, Dr. Berry believes that each generation has the responsibility to make a dent in the wall of injustice. She continues to speak boldly for those who can’t speak for themselves and motivates all of us to take action. Her clarion call challenges everyone to stand up, stand tall and to never give up the fight.