UB to Host Mary Frances Berry, Legal Scholar, Civil Libertarian AND Human Rights Activist

Release Date: March 31, 2004 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- "When it comes to the cause of justice," she has said, " I take no prisoners," and, in fact, victims of injustice, regardless of race, citizenry, sex, economic class or physical ability, long have found a determined and outspoken advocate in Mary Frances Berry, Ph.D., J.D.

Berry is an award-winning historian, legal scholar and distinguished author of many books that are classics in the fields of history and law. In addition to her academic work at the University of Pennsylvania, she has served as chair of the U.S. Human Civil Rights Commission since 1993 and was designated one of "America's Women of the Century" by the Siena College Research Institute and the Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls.

University at Buffalo will host a talk by Berry at 7 p.m. on April 8 in which she will discuss the 1954 groundbreaking Supreme Court decision, "Brown vs. the Board of Education," its historical and legal implications and current application. It will be held in the in the Screening Room in the Center for the Arts on the North (Amherst) Campus.

This event, sponsored by the Department of African American Studies in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, will be free and open to the public. It will be followed by a reception honoring Berry in the Center for the Arts.

Berry has been the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania since 1987. Her long and distinguished career in public service is marked by an outspoken criticism of oppression, exploitation and the denial of human or civil rights, and an articulate and historically-grounded advocacy of justice.

In the late 1970s, Berry became the first black woman to serve as assistant secretary for education in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). In this capacity, she administered an annual budget of nearly $13 billion, coordinating and generally supervising the National Institute of Education, the U.S. Office of Education, the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, the Institute of Museum Services and the National Center for Education Statistics. While at HEW she served briefly as acting U.S. education commissioner.

Prior to her service at HEW, Berry was chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she also was a professor of history and law. She has served as provost of the University of Maryland's Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and has held faculty appointments at Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, the University of Michigan and Howard University.

She was appointed co-chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 1980 by President Carter and served as a commissioner until her appointment as chair by President Clinton in 1993. Recently she served on the national steering committee for the Wesley Clark presidential campaign

Berry was president of the Organization of American Historians in 1990-91 and achieved particular distinction among scholars for her critical analyses of legal issues and African-American history. Her books are standards in the field.

In addition to "Black ResistanceWhite Law," a study of the practice of constitutional racism, her major books include "Military Necessity and Civil Rights Policy: Black Citizenship and the Constitution, 1861-1868," in which she argues that blacks gained the greatest civil rights benefits during times of national crisis, and "Stability, Security, and Continuity: Mr. Justice Burton and Decision-Making in the Supreme Court, 1945-1958."

Also, "Long Memory: The Black Experience in America" (with John Blassingame), a critically-acclaimed interpretation of the black experience through 1980; "Why ERA Failed: Politics, Women's Rights, and the Amending Process of the Constitution;" "The Politics of Parenthood: Child Care, Women's Rights and the Myth of the Good Mother," and "The Pig Farmer's Daughter and Other Tales of American Justice."

Berry has received 31 honorary doctoral degrees and numerous 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 the book "I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America" by Brian Lanker and Maya Angelou.

Media Contact Information

Patricia Donovan has retired from University Communications. To contact UB's media relations staff, call 716-645-6969 or visit our list of current university media contacts. Sorry for the inconvenience.