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Joe Biden, Jesse Jackson receive Freedom Award for civil rights work

Vice President Joe Biden was among three people who received the National Civil Rights Museum's Freedom Award this year. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

By Nicholas Sakelaris, UPI

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and activist Jesse Jackson are among this year's recipients of the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award, for their work in behalf of civil rights.

The pair were honored with the award Wednesday at the landmark museum in Memphis. The theme was "1968" -- the year civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated on the very spot the museum occupies today.

Biden was honored for working in criminal justice and international affairs for 36 years in the U.S. Senate and eight years as President Barack Obama's vice president. He has remained active after leaving the White House, including work with the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware.

In accepting the award, Biden said there's presently a "battle for the soul of America" -- a thinly-veiled reference to President Donald Trump's administration.

"We need you energy. Once again, we need your leadership. We need your renewed commitment to civil rights and civil justice," he said. "Much of what you fought for -- and I played a small part in fighting for -- much of what you accomplished is under siege now like no time since I've been involved in public life."

Jackson has fought for nearly a half-century to advance civil rights, and is often called the "Conscience of the Nation" and "the Great Unifier." The founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition challenged the United States to be inclusive of all races, faiths, genders, cultures and classes..

"Rev. Jackson had not been honored as an icon and because the theme was 1968, we thought it was important," National Civil Rights Museum President Terri Freeman told WREG-TV in Memphis.

Lorraine Motel. The motel was converted into the National Civil Rights Museum in 1991. It was renovated and reopened in 2014.

AutoZone founder J.R. "Pitt" Hyde III also received the award Wednesday. He was honored for philanthropic work in Memphis, his hometown. The Hyde Family Foundation focuses on improving education, strengthening neighborhoods and engaging civic leadership.

"I never dreamed I would be a recipient," Hyde said.

Wednesday's ceremony ended with a tribute to soul singer Aretha Franklin, who died Aug. 16.

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