Mary Frances Berry is an internationally known historian, lawyer, and civil and human rights activist. Since 1987, she has been the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought as well as a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.
Berry overcame the ravages of poverty in her childhood in Nashville, Tennessee, before attending Fisk University and later Howard University. She earned her J.D. degree from the University of Michigan. Since then, Berry has also received thirty-five honorary doctorate degrees and numerous awards including the Roy Wilkins Award, Rosa Parks Award of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Ebony Magazine Achievement Award.
Berry has held administrative positions in higher education as Provost of the University of Maryland and Chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder. She served as President of the Organization of American Historians, and has been a Fellow of the Society of American Historians and of the National Academy of Public Administration.
Berry has authored seven books and has also had a distinguished career in public service. Appointed by President Carter, she was a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1980-2004, serving as chair from 1993-2004. Berry successfully challenged Ronald Reagan's attempt to remove her from the commission before the 1984 election in federal court. She was the first black woman to hold the position of Assistant Secretary for Education in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, serving between 1977 and 1980.
Berry continues to be an outspoken and uncompromising advocate for social justice.