Mary Frances Berry

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Mary Frances Berry

Mary Frances Berry is the The Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and a professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania since 1987. Mary Frances Berry was appointed a commissioner of the Civil Rights Commission by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. After President Ronald Reagan fired her for criticizing his Civil Rights policies, she sued and won re-instatement in federal district court. In 1993 President Bill Clinton appointed her chairperson of the Commission, a position she has held until recently.

She also served as assistant secretary for Education in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) during the Carter Administration, coordinating and supervising nearly $13 billion in federal education programs. Prior to her service at HEW, Berry was provost of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland and chancellor and professor of History and Law at the University of Colorado. She has also held faculty appointments at Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan, and Howard University.[1]

Professor Berry teaches the History of American Law, and the History of Law and Social Policy. She also advises students in African American History.[2]

Education and writing

A graduate of Howard University with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Berry holds a Ph.D. in American constitutional history (1966) and a J.D. from the University of Michigan (1970). A member of the District of Columbia Bar, she teaches history and law at the University of Pennsylvania.

The holder of more than 30 honorary doctoral degrees and awards for her public service and scholarly activities, and the past president of the Organization of American Historians.[3]

She is the author of nine books, including And Justice For All: The United States Commission On Civil Rights And the Struggle For Freedom in America (2009); My Face is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations (2005); The Pig Farmer's Daugher 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); The Politics of Parenthood: Child Care, Women's Rights, and the Myth of the Good Mother (1993); Why ERA Failed: Politics, Women's Rights, and the Amending Process of the Constitution (1986); Long Memory: The Black Experience in America, with John Blassingame (1982); and Military Necessity and Civil Rights Policy: Black Citizenship and the Constitution, 1861-1868 (1977).[4]

Vietnam experience

While an anti - War activist Mary Frances Berry, got herself credentialed by some local Michigan papers and became a correspondent in Vietnam. She traveled all over the country with various branches of the Armed Services, filing reports "we are not winning this war".

Free South Africa Movement

Randall Robinson asked Mary Frances Berry to help found the Free South Africa Movement.

What was called the Free South Africa Movement began on Thanksgiving Day 1984, when then-U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Mary Frances Berry, TransAfrica Forum executive director Randall Robinson, then-D.C. Congressman Walter Fauntroy and current-D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (then a law professor at Georgetown University), were granted a meeting at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The group called for an end to apartheid and the release of all political prisoners in South Africa. When their demands were ignored, the activists staged a sit-in at the South African embassy located on Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.

All but Norton were arrested for trespassing and their actions made national, then international news.

“There were already protests before, but no one got any momentum,” Berry recalls. “We wanted to get arrested. And we tried to get people lined up to get arrested the next day.”

They were arrested the next day, the day after that and the following day. In fact, every day for a year, the Free South Africa Movement (FSAM) held demonstrations at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C.[5]

People for the American Way

Mary Frances Berry serves on the People for the American Way's Board of Directors.[6]

Extreme opinions

While working in the Department of Education, Berry she said we should not criticize Communist China's education policies for requiring students to "develop what they call socialist consciousness and culture."

In 1982 she lamented that "a massive barrage of propaganda" by America's media caused blacks to misunderstand the Soviet Union's virtues, including "safeguards for minorities," "equality of opportunity" and "equal provision of social services to its citizens."

She says that in the 1960s, the era of landmark civil rights legislation, blacks faced a "threat of genocide" that was "roughly comparable" to what Jews faced in Nazi Germany. [7]

Campaign for America's Future

In 1996 Mary Frances Berry, US Commission on Civil Rights was one of the original 130 founders of Campaign for America's Future.[8]

External links


  1. [1] Bio, accessed July 30, 2010
  2. [2] Penn State bio, accessed July 30, 2010
  3. [3] Bio, accessed July 30, 2010
  4. [4] Penn State bio, accessed July 30, 2010
  5. Times,
  6. Board of Directors
  7. [5] The sad, sorry world of Mary Frances Berry, George Will, December 16, 2001
  8. CAF Co-Founders