Remembering a Pioneer: Civil Rights Attorney and Activist Frankie Muse Freeman Dies at 101

The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis via YouTube

She was a fearless fighter for our freedom, and one of the first of her kind: She was Frankie Muse Freeman, a brilliant civil rights attorney, activist and icon. She died Friday, Jan. 12, at the age of 101.


Born in segregated Virginia in 1916, Freeman was raised in a college-educated family, ultimately attending Hampton University, where she pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority—which celebrates its 105th Founders’ Day today. She would later serve as the sorority’s national president from 1967 to 1971.

Freeman then enrolled in Howard University Law School, where she joined Epsilon Sigma Iota Sorority, the first American legal sorority for women of color. After she received her law degree in 1947, her attempts to join multiple law firms went ignored. Undeterred, Freeman established her own private practice, focusing on pro bono, divorce and criminal cases.

That focus turned to civil rights when Freeman became legal counsel to the NAACP in its 1949 suit against the St. Louis Board of Education. By 1954 she was lead attorney in the landmark case Davis v. the St. Louis Housing Authority, which ended legal racial discrimination in public housing within the city. Freeman also made St. Louis her home, soon becoming general counsel of the St. Louis Housing Authority.

In 1964 Freeman became the first woman to be appointed to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, a position she would hold for 13 years and four presidencies, before President Jimmy Carter appointed her inspector general for the Community Services Administration. After being forced out of this role by the Reagan administration, Freeman helped to form the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, a bipartisan commission of former federal officials committed to ending racial discrimination and counteracting its effects.

Upon her return to St. Louis, Freeman once again became active in local politics. In 2006 she co-led a state advisory committee that eventually led to a state takeover of the operation of the St. Louis school district. She continued to practice law into her 90s.

The Glow Up salutes Frankie Muse Freeman for her tireless fight against racial injustice, and thanks her for over 60 years of service on our behalf. Rest in power.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



I wish she could have lived to see a new day in Washington