Freedom Awards canceled: Sponsors donate to keep National Civil Rights Museum on track to reopen

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Concern over the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) to cancel its annual Freedom Awards ceremony scheduled for October.

The event is a major fundraiser for the museum, which has been closed since mid-March but is preparing to reopen July 1 with new social distancing guidelines.

“You know, it’s not an easy decision to cancel the Freedom Awards,” said Faith Morris, NCRM’s marking and external affairs director. “It’s been going on for 29 years, since the museum opened in 1991, and it’s been a very important part of what we do at the NCRM.”

Canceling would normally mean a huge loss in donations, which are needed now more than ever, as the museum has been closed for more than three months.

But 37 sponsors, which call themselves the Freedom Keepers, have stepped forward in spite of the cancellation.

READ MORE: Stars of activism, politics and entertainment honored with Freedom Awards

“Over $700,000 has been raised among sponsors who said, ‘There’s no event? We’re going to act like there is an event,'” Morris said.

This also allows the museum to move ahead with plans to reopen July 1 with new social distancing polices like plastic barriers at cash registers, hand sanitizing stations and exhibits spaced out to allow for the new normal.

Another new policy is that visitors must now buy tickets online for a specific time to tour the museum.

On Monday, visitors were disappointed to see the museum interior closed but were glad to at least to see the historic location where Dr. Martin Luther King took his last breath.

“I remember when I was a little kid, watching this on TV when it all happened, so actually seeing the site itself was quite amazing for me,” said David Macera, who was visiting from Rhode Island.

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