Talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Paul Rusesabagina, whose heroism in the face of genocide inspired the movie Hotel Rwanda, received the US National Civil Rights Museum’s 2005 Freedom Awards.
Winfrey picked up the award for working to improve the lives of poor children in Africa and helping create a US database of convicted child abusers. Previous recipients include Coretta Scott King, and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
Speaking to thousands of schoolchildren and others gathered at a church in Memphis, Tennessee, yesterday, Winfrey praised Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and other US civil rights leaders for paving the way for her success.
“Your crown has been paid for,” she said. “Put it on your head and wear it.”
Winfrey said she accepted the award and an invitation to go to Memphis because of the chance to meet Rusesabagina, whom she called one of her heroes.
Rusesabagina received the International Freedom Award, which has previously been given to former South African President Nelson Mandela and Bono.
He is credited with savings the lives of more than 1,200 people during the mid-1990s Rwandan genocide in which nearly one million people were killed.
Rusesabagina, who was portrayed by Academy Award-nominated Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda, was given a standing ovation today when he told the crowd his name means “the one who disperses his enemies”.
Actress Ruby Dee and her late husband Ossie Davis were honoured with the new Lifetime Achievement Award. Dee and Davis risked their careers resisting McCarthyism in the 1950s and were close friends of King, whom they served with as masters of ceremonies for the historic 1963 March on Washington.
The dinner at which the awards are made is the largest fund raiser for the National Civil Rights Museum, which is housed in the former Lorraine Motel where King was assassinated in 1968.