Frankie Muse Freeman will be 99 years old in November, but nothing gets in the way of her passion for civil rights and her efforts to end discrimination. A landmark attorney both locally and nationally, Freeman is the first woman to be appointed to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, and currently serves as a member of the Commission on Presidential Scholars.
Freeman decided to make civil rights her life’s work after growing up in then-segregated Danville, Virginia. “We had to accept the segregation, but we didn’t approve of it,” she says. “One of the things that had to be changed was the law.”
Freeman started at Hampton Institute, which her mother had attended, and decided then that she would become a lawyer. She was admitted to Howard University Law School in 1944, and received her degree in 1947, graduating second in her class. During that time, she met her husband, Shelby, who was from St. Louis, and they soon were married.
The couple moved to St. Louis in 1948, where Freeman wrote to several local law firms. After not hearing back from them, she decided to open her own private practice. She became the lead attorney in the 1954 landmark NAACP case against the St. Louis Housing Authority, which ended legal segregation of public housing.
In the 1960s, Freeman was nominated by President Johnson as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and, once approved, was reappointed by presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter. “President Johnson wasn’t the first one to consider me, though,” she says. “I was at the White House on November 17, 1963, and told I was being considered by President Kennedy; but he was assassinated the next week. I thought it was all over with.”
In March, Freeman heard from President Johnson. “He told me he had talked to the Urban League and the NAACP about me, but he didn’t tell them what position I was being considered for,” she says. “They would’ve given him the name of a man.” She ended up serving on the commission for 16 years.
Since then, “I’ve been busy, busy, busy for years,” she says. “I’m blessed because my family has always been so supportive.”
Freeman’s legal career in St. Louis spanned more than 60 years, full of “interesting work,” she says.
These days, Freeman lives in an apartment in the Central West End, and spends her time visiting with family and staying involved in the Urban League and the NAACP. She’s a trustee at her church, the Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, where she has been a member since 1949.
Freeman’s accomplishments and honors are numerous, and include being inducted to the National Bar Association’s Hall of Fame, receiving the Springarn Medal from the NAACP, and being inducted to the Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Most recently, a star was installed in the St. Louis Walk of Fame in the Delmar Loop honoring her.
Despite all of these accolades, when you ask Freeman what her biggest accomplishment is, she’ll tell you something completely different. “My family,” she says. “I have been able to be a civil rights lawyer, a wife and a mother all at the same time. When my husband died in 1991, we had been married 52 years, and that was a blessing. I’ve accomplished some things, but not without the support of my family.”
President Obama appointed her to the Commission on Presidential Scholars earlier this year, and it’s kept her busy. In fact, she made the journey to Washington, D.C., to see the 141 presidential scholars be recognized earlier this week. “We met in Washington in April and we selected the scholars,” she says.
The overall theme in Freeman’s life seems to be “blessed,” a word that comes up time and time again in a conversation with her. “I worked with all kinds of groups if they were having a situation with discrimination based on either race, gender or anything else,” she says. “I did whatever I felt I had to do to make a difference.”
This story was originally published at laduenews.com. Read it on LN’s website here.