That fire has taken her to so many places—from Nashville to Houston, Washington, D.C., to South Africa—to be an ambassador for social justice. One of the founders of the Free South Africa Movement in the 1980s, which instigated protests at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the successful struggle for democracy in South Africa, Berry was arrested and jailed several times for the cause. She was in Cape Town on Feb. 11, 1990, to meet Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison.
For any movement to be successful, it needs a strategy and a leader, said Berry, who since 1987 has served as the Geraldine R. Segal professor of American thought and a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.
She still misses her friend, Coretta Scott King, who played a much bigger role in the U.S. civil rights movement than most people know. Although she stayed in the background, Coretta King's commitment to civil disobedience had a tremendous influence on her husband, Berry said.
At 77, Berry continues her life's work. Although progress has been made, there's much more to be done on the civil rights front. "I'm not an optimist or a pessimist. I am a realist," she told the crowd gathered in Degenstein Center Theater.
Berry said she is encouraged by the current generation of protestors, noting that it's important to vote, but that is not enough. "If you really want to change the system, you have to first be noticed; make people pay attention," she urged.
"After all these years of struggle, here we are talking about the same old stuff. And I wonder what Martin would think. He wouldn't think his work was in vain, because there has been some progress, but he would probably be flummoxed that we haven't been able to do more."