Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins to receive Freedom Summer of '64 Award

Join the celebration March 12


Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins

By Cliff Peale, university communications and marketing

A career dedicated to protecting and expanding voting rights makes Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins a natural choice for the Freedom Summer of ’64 Award from Miami University. Created in 2017, the award honors leaders who strive to advance civil rights and social justice in America.

Jefferson-Jenkins graduated from Western College for Women in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in social science and education. From 1998 to 2002, she served as both the 15th national president of the League of Women Voters of the United States – the first African American to hold the role – and chair of the League of Women Voters Education Fund.

In writing to Jefferson-Jenkins informing her of her award, Miami President Greg Crawford said, “Your push for grassroots organization and attention to local elections underscores the goals of Freedom Summer and affirms its values and principles.”

Jefferson-Jenkins will receive the award Thursday, March 12, in Kumler Chapel on Miami’s Western campus. The event is open to the public and begins at 3 p.m. with her lecture, “Your Turn Will Come: The Continuing Journey to Full Voting Rights,” followed by the award presentation by President Crawford.

Other speaking events in Jefferson-Jenkins' visit include:

  • The keynote speech, “We are the Movement Makers,” at Miami's Celebrating Global Sisterhood program. The event is at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 11.
  • Noon, Thursday, March 12, a talk, “Your turn will come: The continuing journey to full voting rights” in honor of Women’s History Month in 320 King Library.
  • Participation in an 11 a.m. forum Friday, March 13, of the 18th Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality Symposium on “Rise and Advocate: The Power of the Vote,” at Shriver Center's Dolibois Room A.
  • Saturday, March 14, keynote talk, “A Legacy in the Balance: The Stories That Tell Us Why We Can't Wait,” at 1 p.m. also as part of 18th Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality Symposium at Cincinnati's Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
She will also sign copies of her book after each of the events.

During her leadership of the League of Women Voters, Jefferson-Jenkins promoted its strength as a grassroots organization and called for a focus on local elections, as well as increasing the number of voters who participate in all elections. In the early days of the internet, she promoted the Wired for Democracy project to increase participation and advocate for campaign finance reform.

As chair of the league’s Voter Education Fund, Jefferson-Jenkins promoted democracy-building efforts in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, the Netherlands, Israel and a group of African countries. She is the author of The Road to Black Suffrage and One Man, One Vote: The History of the African-American Vote in the United States. Her new book, The Untold Story of Women of Color in the League of Women Voters, will be released this month in honor of the organization’s centennial celebration.

“Throughout your career, you have intentionally chosen to stand and actively promote the very heart of Freedom Summer – voting rights,” President Crawford wrote.

After graduating from Western College, Jefferson-Jenkins started her career as a public school teacher and administrator. She earned a master’s degree in education from John Carroll University, an educational specialist degree from Kent State University and a doctoral degree from Cleveland State University.

This is the third Freedom Summer of ’64 Award. It is named to remember and recognize the site at the Western College for Women, now part of Miami University, where 800 young Americans trained to register black voters in the south. The inaugural award was presented to Congressman John Lewis in March 2018. Lewis has dedicated his life to advancing the rights of all Americans and was one of the trainers during Freedom Summer on the Western College campus.

In June 2019, Miami presented the award to Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Mississippi, for its work ensuring that the memory of Freedom Summer and three civil rights workers who were killed that summer – James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – lives on.

In addition to the March 12 presentation to Jefferson-Jenkins, Miami plans to present an additional Freedom Summer of ’64 Award later this year.