Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, was presented the 2009 Madison Freedom Award at The Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 16.
The award, which has been presented five times since 2004, is given by The Madison to commemorate the legacy of James Madison, “the father of the Constitution” and fourth president of the United States.
The award came at the end of a week in which the state of South Carolina granted a pardon to Thomas and Meeks Griffin — both great-uncles of syndicated talk show host Tom Joyner — nearly a century after their execution for the 1913 murder of a Confederate Army veteran. The pardon was based on evidence uncovered by Gates and his research team in the course of filming the 2008 PBS documentary, “African American Lives 2.” The film was presented to South Carolina’s state parole and pardon board by Joyner and his attorney.
“The award is given to someone who is instrumental in educating the public about the history of the rights instituted by the nation’s founding fathers and the importance of preserving them,” said Larry Beiderman, general manager of The Madison. “Professor Gates’ teachings and body of work are an important part of history and he is full of inspiration and personal determination.”
“This week I have thought a great deal about freedom and history, because of the Griffin brothers,” Gates said. “As is the case with Madison,” he added, “we cannot change history — what was done or what was written — but we can learn from it and use the tools and knowledge we have to correct past injustices and to ensure a better future. One of these tools is certainly Madison’s Constitution.”