The White House announced last week that President Barack Obama will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a number of pioneering feminists and civil rights leaders. The medal is the highest honor a civilian can receive and given to those who make significant contributions in world peace, culture, or other public pursuits.
The recipients of the medal will include:
Nancy Goodman Brinker, who founded grassroots breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure in 1982. In addition to a number of governmental posts, Brinker was named the World Health Organization’s first Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control in May;
Edward Kennedy, who has served as a United States Senator for 46 years, working tirelessly on key civil rights, education, and health legislation;
Billie Jean King, a professional tennis player who pioneered women’s equality in sports, both as a player when she defeated Bobby Riggs in the famous “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match and later as an administrator when she became professional sports’ first woman commissioner;
Reverend Joseph Lowery, who is a long-time civil rights leader who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and has continued to work continuously for desegregation, against apartheid, and for a number of other civil rights issues;
Harvey Milk, who was a pioneer of the LGBT rights movement and became the first openly gay public official in the US after being elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk was assassinated in 1978;
Sandra Day O’Connor, who became the first woman to serve on the US Supreme Court in 1981 and also was the first woman to serve as a State Senate Majority Leader in the US;
Mary Robinson, who became Ireland’s first woman President in 1990 and who later served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights;.
Desmond Tutu, who led the movement against apartheid in South Africa and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for continued work for both peace and civil rights;
Other recipients are physician Dr. Pedro Jose Greer, Jr., physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking, former Congressman and Cabinet Secretary Jack Kemp, Native American cultural scholar Joe Medicine Crow – High Bird, actor Sidney Poitier, actress Chita Rivera, geneticist Janet Davison Rowley, and economist and anti-poverty activist Muhammad Yunus.
President Obama said in a White House press release, “These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.” An awards ceremony will be held on August 12.