July 30th, 2009
02:49 PM ET
5 years ago

Sixteen to get Presidential Medal of Freedom

Sen. Kennedy is one of the 16 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom named by the White House Thursday.
Sen. Kennedy is one of the 16 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom named by the White House Thursday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The White House announced Thursday the 16 recipients of this year's Presidential Medal of Freedom, who include researchers, activists and athletes.

Recipients "make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," the White House said in a written statement.

"Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive," said President Barack Obama in the statement.

(Full list of recipients after the jump):

The recipients:

Nancy Goodman Brinker is the founder of Susan G, Komen for the Cure, a grassroots organization that invests in research to fight breast cancer.

Pedro Jose Greer Jr. is the founder of Camillus Health Concern, an agency that provides medical care to more than 10,000 homeless patients a year in Miami, Florida.

Stephen Hawking is a theoretical physicist and author who has worked through a severe physical disability to pioneer academic research in math and physics.

Jack Kemp, who receives the award posthumously, served as a congressman and as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He also encouraged development in urban communities.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, has served as a senator for 46 years and has pushed for quality and affordable health care for children, seniors and people with disabilities.

Billie Jean King, a professional tennis player of the 1960s and 1970s, was the first openly lesbian major sports figure in the United States.

Rev. Joseph Lowery has been a leader of the struggle for civil rights since the 1950s. His work included helping to organize the Montgomery bus boycott that followed Rosa Park's refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger in 1955.

Joe Medicine Crow – High Bird is the last living Plains Indian war chief and author on Native American history and culture.

Harvey Milk, who receives the award posthumously, became the first openly gay elected official of a major U.S. city when he joined the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He pushed the civil rights movement for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Sandra Day O'Connor was the first female U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Sidney Poitier was the first African American to be nominated for and win an Academy Award for best actor.

Chita Rivera was the first Latina recipient of the performing arts award from the Kennedy Center. She made her breakthrough performance in 1957 as Anita in the Broadway premiere of West Side Story and has won two Tony Awards.

Mary Robinson was the first female president of Ireland. She is also the founder of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, an organization that focuses on the link between human rights and globalization.

Janet Davison Rowley is a human geneticist and the first scientist to identify a chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers. She received the National Medal of Science in 1999, the United States' highest scientific award.

Desmond Tutu is a retired Anglican archbishop who played a lead role in South Africa's anti-apartheid movement. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

Muhammad Yunus pioneered micro-loans in his effort to reverse poverty trends. The Bangladeshi economist provided small, low-interest loans to low-income people in Bangladesh. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

The award ceremony is set for August 12.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Debra

    Wonderful list of "truly" deserving people! It's a shame that this prestigious honor had in the past become so politicized. People were being rewarded for doing nothing more that just agreeing with the President.

    Regardless of what his critics may say, this is just more proof of President Obama trying hard to bring prestige back to the White House. This IS change we can believe in!

    Kudos Mr. President!

    July 30, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  2. chuckster, Boston MA

    What an amazing list.

    This is the kind of change I wanted. This is the kind of change I voted for. This is the kind of change Mr. Obama is demonstrating.

    He is providing us with a Presidency rooted in reason, thoughtfulness and fairness. If you think that this is NOT a change from what we have had for the past eight years, you have either been asleep or your head has been so far up your a– you can't even see the sun during the day.

    July 30, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  3. muzammil u khan

    truly a great pick by truly a great president.

    July 30, 2009 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  4. Jimmy

    Yunus and some of the others are great choices, but Harvey Milk? Seriously?

    July 30, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  5. muzammil u khan

    truly a great pick by truly a great president

    July 30, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  6. RR

    Ted Kennedy?

    One of these things is not like the others....

    July 30, 2009 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  7. Alicia

    Congratulations Senator Kennedy!!!! God speed, Lion!

    ****Lovin' the diversity*****

    July 30, 2009 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  8. Matt

    Great list! Kudos to all of them. They deserve this honor.

    July 30, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  9. MEStrauss New Mexico

    Regardless of what we may think of Ted Kennedy's personal life, his steadfast support of health care for all Americans over many many years merits this award.

    The list is remarkable for its thoughtfulness, recognition that our lives are enhanced by contributors from throughout the world, and, most of all, for the absence of cronyism.

    July 30, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  10. makesUwonder

    "Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive,"

    Obama sure can mouth this stuff, to bad he can't do it.

    July 30, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
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