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The Honorable Frankie Freeman

U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Frankie Freeman was born Marie Frankie Muse on November 24, 1916 in Danville, Virginia. Her parents, Maude Beatrice Smith Muse and William Brown Muse, came from college-educated families. Her relatives included Charles Sumner Muse, Edward Muse and Clarence Muse. Freeman grew up in Danville where she attended Westmoreland School and learned to play the piano. At age sixteen, Freeman enrolled in her mother’s alma mater, Hampton Institute, which she attended between 1933 and 1936. While in New York, Freeman met and married Shelby T. Freeman. In 1944, she was admitted to Howard University Law School where William H. Hastie and Spottswood Robinson were on the faculty. Freeman graduated second in her class in 1947.

Upon graduating from law school, Freeman set up her law offices in the Jefferson Bank Building in June of 1949 and became engaged in the Civil Rights Movement. Freeman was a part of an NAACP legal brain trust, which included Sidney Redmond, Robert Witherspoon and Henry Espy in the NAACP’s 1949 Brewton v. the Board of Education of St. Louis, following the case to victory in the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri. In 1954, the same year as Brown v. the Board of Education, Freeman was the lead attorney for the landmark NAACP case Davis et al v. the St. Louis Housing Authority, which ended legal racial discrimination in public housing. In 1955, Freeman became the first associate general counsel of the St. Louis Housing Authority and Land Clearance Authority. In 1958, she became a charter member of the Missouri advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Freeman provided NAACP counsel to CORE activists demonstrating against hiring discrimination policies at Jefferson Bank. In March of 1964, she was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson as the first female member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Freeman served as a commissioner for sixteen years, and later as Inspector General for the Community Services Administration during the Carter Administration. Freeman was also a municipal court judge in the early 1970s. In 1982, Freeman helped form a bipartisan Citizens Commission on Civil Rights to monitor the federal government’s enforcement of laws barring discrimination. Freeman was a practicing attorney for more than fifty years.

Freeman was a Trustee Emeritus of the Board of Trustees of Howard University, past Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Council on Aging, Inc. and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. She was also a board member of the United Way of Greater St. Louis, the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District and the St. Louis Center for International Relations. She was the author of A Song of Faith and Hope: The Life of Frankie Muse Freeman and past national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Freeman also received several honorary doctorate degrees from institutions that include Hampton University, Washington University and Howard University. She was inducted into the National Bar Association’s Hall of Fame in 1990.

Freeman passed away on January 12, 2018 at age 101.

Accession Number

A2006.183

Sex

Female

Interview Date

12/19/2006

Last Name

Freeman

Maker Category
Schools

Westmoreland School

Hampton University

Howard University School of Law

First Name

Frankie

Birth City, State, Country

Danville

HM ID

FRE05

Favorite Season

Christmas

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere Warm, Cape Town, South Africa

Favorite Quote

Do Your Homework.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Missouri

Birth Date

11/24/1916

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

St. Louis

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Soul Food

Death Date

1/12/2018

Short Description

U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner The Honorable Frankie Freeman (1916 - 2018 ) was a former municipal court judge for St. Louis, Missouri and was the first female member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Freeman was the lead attorney for the NAACP case, Davis et al v. St. Louis Housing Authority.

Employment

the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Price Administration

Frankie Freeman, private practice

State of Missouri

St. Louis Housing Authority

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Community Services Administration

Montgomery Hollie and Associates, LLC.

Citizens Commission on Civil Rights

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Frankie Freeman

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls the black businesses in Danville, Virginia

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman talks about her mother's education and profession

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers her paternal grandfather, Frank Muse

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls the independence of the black community in Danville, Virginia

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman describes her father's education and profession

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls how her parents met and married

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman describes her neighborhood in Danville, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers segregation in Danville, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls her early musical talents

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman describes her early education

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls her decision to attend the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman describes her experience at the Hampton Institute

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers African American lawyer Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman shares a story about the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls applying to St. John's College of Law in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers meeting her husband, Shelby Freeman, Jr.

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - The Honorable Frankie Muse Freeman recalls her decision to apply to Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls her acceptance to Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers registering for her final year of law school

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls graduating from Howard University School of Law

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers her mentors at Howard University School of Law

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman talks about starting her law firm in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers the Jefferson Bank and Trust Company

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls other black female professionals in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers Brewten v. the Board of Education of St. Louis, 1950

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman talks about Davis et al. v. the St. Louis Housing Authority, 1955

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers Constance Baker Motley

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman describes her position as a Missouri assistant attorney general

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls being hired by the St. Louis Housing Authority

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers the effects of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, 1954 in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers notable civil rights attorneys

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman talks about desegregation in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers the Pruitt Igoe housing project in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman talks about her activism in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls her nomination to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls her U.S. Senate confirmation to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers her first hearing for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman describes her experience at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman reflects upon the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers President Lyndon Baines Johnson's administration

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman talks about the importance of affirmative action

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls her presidency of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers President Richard Milhous Nixon's administration

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls leaving the St. Louis Housing Authority

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman reflects upon President James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr.'s administration

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls her work for Native American rights

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers her discrimination case against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls her appointment as inspector general for the Community Services Administration

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls her dismissal as inspector general for the Community Services Administration

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman talks about the mismanagement of funds in public agencies

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers William Clay, Sr.'s congressional election

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman recalls forming the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers Clarence Thomas' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers Clarence Thomas' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman talks about her work in private practice

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman reflects upon her life

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman describes her family

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman talks about her organizational involvement

Tape: 6 Story: 13 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - The Honorable Frankie Freeman narrates her photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$3

DAStory

2$8

DATitle
The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers registering for her final year of law school
The Honorable Frankie Freeman remembers Brewten v. the Board of Education of St. Louis, 1950
Transcript
Because I would get up in the morning very early, I would, I would, I'd get up like at three o'clock and do--and, and study. In the meantime however, there were a group of us (unclear) about four of us who were, you know, a study team. We would study to, all of us were pretty much around the same age at that time and same interests and so we studied together actually. And so I did very well and then my second year I became pregnant and so I still got through the second year but the baby was due in, in September which would be the beginning of my senior year. And the summer was fine because you see I was out of school and so I at least could do, do all of the things that I would ordinarily be doing. But class was to start in September the 10th and I knew my son [Shelby Freeman III] was due soon in September. So I wrote to--in the meantime Dean Hastie [William H. Hastie] had been appointed governor of the [U.S.] Virgin Islands so we had a new dean, Dean Johnson [George M. Johnson]. So I wrote to him in August and asked for permission to register late--to register after my baby was born and he wrote to me and reminded me of the rules that I couldn't do that and that only the university registrar could make that decision. So I--on the date of the--of September 10th Shelby [Freeman's husband, Shelby Freeman, Jr.] took me--by the time, I don't know what the arrangement was but anyway he took me up there and left me and I went over to the university registrar and filled out the form and asked to be, to register, you know, to register late. Dean Wilkerson [ph.] who was the registrar looked at me and he said, "Mrs. Freeman [HistoryMaker Frankie Freeman] I think you should stay out a year and come back after your baby is born." Well the war [World War II, WWII] was ending this was in '44 [1944] and I knew that my husband who was a St. Louisian that the decision was that we were coming to St. Louis [Missouri] and so I was afraid--I couldn't afford that, I couldn't take that chance. So I said thank you and then I came on back over to the law school [Howard University School of Law, Washington, D.C.] and stood in line to register and all of the people who were ahead of me to register immediately dropped out and got behind me and I registered. As soon as I had registered Ms. Cooper [ph.], Dean Johnson's special (unclear) secretary came to me and said, "Dean Johnson wants to see you." So when I went into his office he said, "Now Mrs. Freeman you have registered and I want you to know that you are already in good standing so you can go home and after your baby is born and your doctor releases you then you may return to school because I think your team will probably help you during that time." So I, I called Shelby and he came and picked me up and my son was born four days later on, on the, the 14th.$Tell us about Brewton versus the Board of Education [Brewton v. Board of Education of St. Louis, 1950].$$Oh. That was the first civil rights case in which I participated with three other lawyers, civil rights, well established Sidney Redmond [Sidney R. Redmond] and Henry Espy [Henry D. Espy] and Robert Witherspoon. And when I came to St. Louis [Missouri] and I opened my office and I joined the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] and I went to see them and I said, "I would be willing to work with you if any cases come." In--St. Louis had still segregated black, white in Washington Technical High School [Booker T. Washington Technical High School, St. Louis, Missouri] they had a little quote, separate but equal. Had courses that I think--they had both of them automobile and mechanics and Hadley Technical High School [St. Louis, Missouri] also had automobile mechanics but then they started a course in airplane mechanics. That hit the news and so there were three brothers who by that time there was excitement about the planes and everything. They read this and they told their parents, "We want to go, we want to take that course." So he did what parents do, he went even though he knew what the situation was he went to the school and was turned down, went to the board was turned down. They came to the NAACP and so then that's when they told me and I became--yeah I want to be involved in that too. We filed suit in circuit court [22nd Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri] challenging it as unconstitutional even under separate but equal and the judge decided in favor of the three Brewton brothers. So the board of education appealed it to the State of Missouri. Briefs were filed and we travelled to Jefferson City [Missouri], Sidney Redmond argued the case. The supreme court found in favor of--affirmed the case of the circuit court, found in favor of the plaintiffs and issued a mandate to them that they could not have a course in airplane mechanics for white student and not have one for blacks. So the board of education closed down the course for white students.$$So they, they solved it by subtraction?$$They solved it by subtraction and what happened, and of course we never have been able to prove this, but there were, there was a private school that we had been told that the white students went to but we didn't, but we never of course pursued that. What happened however, the three Brewton brothers during then did get trained, but they got trained to the [U.S.] military the Korean War. They got trained and one of the brothers even became an assistant manager of the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] out in St. Louis and when he was talking and during the time several years later when I was talking about this case and somebody told him about it he called me and he told me that he was talking to his supervisor telling him about his experience and how he had gotten to be, how he had gotten his training. And then he learned that the supervisor was a student at Hadley at the time that he was, you know, was denied admission. But by that time they had become good friends and all so he shared his experience.$$It's ironic.$$Yeah.$$So the next, I guess, big case--now this is, this one went all the way to, to, to the Supreme Court of Missouri, right?$$Yeah that went to the Supreme Court of Missouri.