Mahaney civil liberties award goes to Karen VanEman

The Evan Mahaney Champion of Civil Liberties Award, presented in Western North Carolina since 2003, will be awarded this Saturday to Karen VanEman. An Asheville resident, VanEman is being cited for her community involvement through such organizations as Helpmate, UNCA, Justice Watch, the League of Women Voters and Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church. As a church elder, she represents her faith community as part of the North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium on the death penalty.

VanEman is a former English professor at Wayne State University in Michigan who retired to Asheville some 10 years ago. Active with the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan, she has served on the board and as president of the WNC chapter here. She also served as board chair of Helpmate, where she won the Outstanding Volunteer Award for the WNC Crime Victims’ Coalition for her efforts on behalf of battered women.

The Mahaney award was first presented posthumously to its namesake, Evan R. Mahaney, longtime journalist and civil libertarian who was responsible for resurrecting the WNC chapter in the 1990s and who served as its president for a number of years. Past recipients have included attorney Frank Goldsmith and his legal team for winning the exoneration of an innocent, 13-year resident of Death Row; Women in Black – vigil keepers in downtown Asheville; the Asheville Global Report; and three local ministers (Revs. Mark Ward, Howard Hanger and Joe Hoffman) whose belief that the state marriage law is discriminatory led them to perform only religious marriage ceremonies until gay and lesbian couples gain civil marriage rights.

This year’s recipient, who now counts herself a Grade 4 brain-tumor survivor, volunteered for a vaccine trial at Duke University Medical Center and is active with the Brain Tumor Support Group of WNC. She is also helping to develop an oral-history collection for the UNCA Ramsey Library, to be housed in a special collection named in her honor: the Karen VanEman Collection of African-American Oral History in Asheville. The project is tied to VanEman’s concern about the disproportionate efect of development and highway construction on local African-American communities.

The award will be given at the ACLU’s annual meeting, which is open to the public and takes place at the Greenlife Community Center, 90 Merrimon Avenue,  beginning at 10:30 a.m. Breakfast breads, tea and coffee will be available. For further information, call 252-7666.

Nelda Holder, associate editor


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