New Legacies Honored

Johnson Medalists 2010

Shared Moment: The 2010 Johnson Medalists sing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," written by Johnson himself, at the ceremony.
Bryan Meltz

It is always meaningful to be recognized for one's work, but when the award bestowed carries the name of a personal hero, it can be especially gratifying.

That happened for Justice Leah Ward Sears 80L when she received a 2010 James Weldon Johnson Medal at a ceremony hosted by the Johnson Institute in November at The Carter Center. The medals honor the legacy and accomplishments of Johnson, the legendary writer, journalist, civil rights leader, musician, and humanitarian.

“[Johnson is] a great figure to me,” Sears told the Emory Wheel in an interview. “To have his light shed on me—it’s such an honor; it’s very overwhelming.”

Sears is an Emory trustee and a partner in the Atlanta law firm Schiff Hardin. In 1992, she became the first woman and the youngest person to be appointed to Georgia’s Supreme Court; from 2005 to 2009, she served as chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.

In addition to Sears, the Johnson Institute honored six other figures whose achievements in civil rights and humanitarian service reflect a deep and unwavering commitment to civil and human rights:

  • Lucy Cline Huie 39Ox 42G, cofounder of HOPE, a civil rights project whose purpose was to desegregate public schools in Georgia in the 1940s and 1950s.
  • Deborah E. Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at the Tam Institute at Emory.
  • Joseph E. Lowery 10H, former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, still one of the leading civil rights organizations in the nation.
  • Robert (Bob) P. Moses, founder of the Algebra Project. Moses was a pivotal organizer for the civil rights movement as field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
  • The late Sondra K. Wilson, a scholar of Johnson and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Wilson was executor of the estate of Grace Nail and James Weldon Johnson and the founder of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Foundation.
  • Ambassador Andrew J. Young, former Atlanta mayor and US congressman, and a top aide to Martin Luther King Jr. He is the founding principal and cochair of Good Works International of Atlanta.

“The Johnson Medal Award Ceremony is an occasion when we may reclaim and reaffirm our commitment to the greatest social movement of the twentieth century,” says Byrd, offering a chance to “pause to reflect upon our relationship to a living history that has provided us with a knowledge of our condition.”

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