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Thu, 02.17.1938

Mary Frances Berry, Author, and Administrator born

Dr. Mary Frances Berry

*On this date in 1938, Mary Frances Berry was born. She is a Black lawyer, administrator, activist, and author.

Berry was born in Nashville, Tennessee, where she attended public schools. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Howard University, a doctorate in history from the University of Michigan, and a jurist doctorate degree from the University of Michigan Law School. She is a member of the Bar of the District of Columbia.

Dr. Berry has received 33 honorary doctoral degrees and many awards for her public service and scholarly activities, including the NAACP's Roy Wilkins Award, the Rosa Parks Award of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Ebony Magazine Black Achievement Award.  She is one of 75 women featured in I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America.  Sienna College Research Institute and the Women's Hall of Fame designated her one of "America's Women of the Century."  Dr. Berry was Chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she was also a professor of History and Law.

She was Provost of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park; she has held faculty appointments at Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, the University of Maryland, College Park, the University of Michigan, and Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1977, she served as the Assistant Secretary for Education in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) until 1980.

She was a Vice Chair of the Civil Rights Commission from 1980-82 and has been a Commissioner since that time. From 1990-91, Dr. Berry was the Organization of American Historians' president. Dr. Berry is the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mary Frances Berry became Chairperson of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on November 19, 1993. An Independent, she was reappointed to the Commission by the President in January 1999.

In 2003 among other occasions, Dr. Berry took part in the Du Bois scholar symposium 'The Souls of Black Folk' at the University of Wisconsin.

In 2009, her ninth book was published, a history of the Civil Rights Commission. Reviewing it in The New York Times, Samuel G. Freedman wrote, "Reviewing a book is not reviewing a life. For her public service on behalf of racial justice, Mary Frances Berry deserves her many accolades. But on the evidence of 'And Justice for All,' she may have been the wrong person to tell a story that obviously matters to her so deeply."  In 2014, she authored We Are Who We Say We Are.

To Become a Lawyer


University of Pennsylvania
School of Arts and Sciences
Department of History
208 College Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6379

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