Winners of the 2021 RFK Book and Journalism Awards


New York, NY (June 3, 2021)

—Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights announced the winners of its 2021 RFK Book and Journalism Awards on Thursday during a virtual ceremony featuring special guest presenters Norah O’Donnell, Hoda Kotb, Katie Couric, Don Lemon, Nick Kristof, Sheinelle Jones, Natalie Morales, Rory Kennedy, Soledad O’Brien, Craig Melvin, John Harwood, and Shawn Yancy.

This year’s RFK Book Award winner is “Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory,” by Claudio Saunt. His work is an unflinching look at the forced migration of 80,000 Native Americans across the Mississippi River in the 1830s and those who profited from the systematic, and violent, expulsion of Indigenous people. As Saunt traces white Americans’ stolen wealth, and Native Americans’ resulting poverty through the ages, he forces readers to reckon with difficult truths; most importantly, that this shameful chapter in America’s history could have been completely avoided if more citizens had dared to speak up against such cruel and inhumane policies.

Winners of the 2021 RFK Journalism Awards were selected from over 350 entries across print, broadcast, and new media categories, encapsulating some of the most exemplary reporting from the past year. In particular, the judges singled out four projects for their outstanding achievements:

  • The newsrooms of the USA TODAY Network in the South won this year’s Domestic Print Award and were also named the Grand Prize winner for their collaborative project, The Confederate Reckoning, which critically examined the legacy of the Confederacy and its influence on systemic racism today.
  • HBO’s Welcome to Chechnya won in International Television as well as this year’s Seigenthaler Prize, which recognizes reporting under extraordinary circumstances requiring great courage and commitment. The searing documentary shadows a group of activists who risk unimaginable peril to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ pogrom raging in the repressive and closed Russian republic.
  • Reuters’ Dying Inside won the Criminal Justice Reform Prize, a new category honoring exemplary reporting on the impacts of mass incarceration. The multimedia project included the most exhaustive database of jail deaths ever published, pinpointing where suicide, botched healthcare, and bad jailkeeping are claiming lives in a system with scant oversight.
  • The Manual RedEye, the student news website of duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky, won this year’s New Voices for Justice Award for their investigation, Bigoted Badges: How Hate and Violence are Embedded in Kentucky Law Enforcement Training.

“My father was a firm believer in a fair and free press as one of the greatest bulwarks of democracy, and that conviction continues to power our work at RFK Human Rights today,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “We’re proud to support journalists in their commitment to speak truth to power, keeping us informed and engaged when our democracy is most at risk.”

The full list of honorees for the 2021 RFK Book and Journalism Awards can be found below. Special thanks to historian and author Michael Beschloss, head of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award committee, and Margaret Engel, director of the Alicia Patterson Journalism Foundation and chair of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards committee, as well as the more than 50 volunteer judges who participated this year. We are especially grateful to Mortimer B. Zuckerman, whose support made this year’s competition possible.


High School Print and New Voices for Justice Award
Bigoted Badges: How Hate and Violence are Embedded in Kentucky Law Enforcement Training
duPont Manual High School’s Manual RedEye
Satchel Walton, Cooper Walton, and Payton Carns

High School Broadcast
The Pandemic Program
Prosper High School’s Eagle Nation News
Grant Johnson, Kacey Boston, Cristina Folsom, and Maggie Hale

College Journalism
Kids Imprisoned
Carnegie-Knight News21, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication
News21 Staff

Domestic Print and Grand Prize
The Confederate Reckoning
USA TODAY Network in the South
Michael Anastasi and Mark Russell

International Print
Fruits of Labor
Associated Press
Margie Mason and Robin McDowell

Domestic Photography
We Keep Us Safe
VII Photo Agency
André Chung

International Photography
War Forces Thousands of Ethiopians Into Sudan
Associated Press
Nariman El-Mofty

Canary: The Washington Post Investigates
Washington Post
Amy Brittain, Reena Flores, and Bishop Sand

New Media
Gag Order: How Marine Corps Culture Silenced a Victim of Sexual Assault
The War Horse
Thomas Brennan, Kelly Kennedy, and Ben Kalin

In/Vulnerable: Inequity in the Time of Pandemic
Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting
Reveal News Team

Domestic Television
16 and Recovering
MTV News
Steve Liss, Ben Hurvitz, Lily Neumeyer, and the team at MTV News

International Television and Seigenthaler Prize
Welcome to Chechnya
David France

Criminal Justice Reform Prize
Dying Inside
Peter Eisler, Jason Szep, Linda So, Grant Smith, Ned Parker, and the rest of the Reuters team

Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory
W. W. Norton & Company
Claudio Saunt

Robert F. Kennedy Book Award

The Robert F. Kennedy Book Award was established in 1980 with the proceeds from Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s best selling biography, Robert Kennedy and His Times. Each year, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights presents an award to the book that, as Schlesinger said, “most faithfully and forcefully reflects Robert Kennedy’s purposes—his concern for the poor and the powerless, his struggle for honest and even-handed justice, his conviction that a decent society must assure all young people a fair chance, and his faith that a free democracy can act to remedy disparities of power and opportunity.” The Robert F. Kennedy Book Award has been recognized as one of the most prestigious honors an author can receive.

Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards

Founded by the reporters who covered Robert F. Kennedy’s historic 1968 presidential campaign, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards honor outstanding reporting on issues that reflect Robert Kennedy’s concerns, including human rights, social justice, and the power of individual action in the United States and around the world. Winning entries provide insights into the causes, conditions, and remedies of human rights violations and injustice, and critical analyses of relevant policies, programs, individual actions, and private endeavors that foster positive change. The Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards are among the few in which winners are determined by their peers. Past winners include the Washington Post, NPR, CBS’s 60 Minutes, ProPublica, ABC’s 20/20, and HBO.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

We are a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that has worked to realize Robert F. Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world since 1968. In partnership with local activists, we advocate for key human rights issues—championing changemakers and pursuing strategic litigation at home and around the world. And to ensure change that lasts, we foster a social-good approach to business and investment and educate millions of students about human rights and social justice.