Scholar, Civil Rights Activist Mary Frances Berry To Deliver Sept. 27 School of Law Lecture

Issue Date: 
September 24, 2012

Mary Frances BerryDo the controversial new restrictions on voting and voter registration amount to new forms of voter suppression? Will the restrictions disenfranchise voters in the Nov. 6 presidential election? These are some of the questions that scholar and civil rights activist Mary Frances Berry will discuss during her free University of Pittsburgh School of Law lecture, “Social Justice in the Obama Era: Power and Legalities,” at 5 p.m. Sept. 27 in Pitt’s Barco Law Building, Teplitz Memorial Courtroom.

Berry is the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. She previously served as provost of the University of Maryland and as chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Renowned for her public service, Berry was assistant secretary of education in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1977 until 1980 when President Carter appointed her a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She remained on the commission for 24 years, serving as chair from 1993 to 2004.

The commission’s June 2001 report, “Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election,” followed public hearings to investigate allegations that Florida voters were prevented from casting ballots or that their ballots were not counted in the 2000 presidential election. In her transmittal of the report to then-President George W. Bush, Berry wrote, “Voting is the language of our democracy. As the Supreme Court observed, ‘no right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live.’” She concluded, “It is clear that many people in Florida were denied this precious right.”

Berry earned her bachelor’s degree at Howard University and her PhD in history from the University of Michigan, where she also received a Juris Doctor degree. A fellow of the prestigious Society of American Historians, Berry has authored 10 books, among them And Justice for All: The United States Commission on Civil Rights and the Struggle for Freedom in America (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009) and Power in Words: The Stories behind Barack Obama’s Speeches, from the State House to the White House with Josh Gottheimer (Beacon Press, 2010).

Berry’s lecture is presented by Pitt’s School of Law and cosponsored by the University’s Office of Public Affairs and School of Social Work, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. The lecture has been approved by the Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education Board for one hour of substantive credit. The fee to obtain credit is $25.

For further information, visit or call 412-648-1418.