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. Sharon Kitchen

    Now that is what I call a list to remember.

    What a good list.

    Thank you Pres. Obama for including a Native American.

    July 30, 2009 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  2. Michael M, Phoenix AZ

    Joe Medicine Crow-High Bird should also make sure the Lakotas get the $800 million owed to them by the U.S. Government, not to mention all the other American Indian tribes that were practically wiped out by the Army and disease!

    July 30, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  3. CF

    Can't wait to see what the Republicans come up with to criticize Obama on each of these choices. I'll go make the popcorn.

    July 30, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  4. Mike in NJ

    This is a shocking list – shocking in that these people haven't received this award a long, long time ago... and that George Tenet was awarded the medal for... well, search for it if you don't already know.

    Congratulations to those awarded this medal – you exemplify the true spirit of service to this country and to the world.

    July 30, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  5. John

    Very nice to see a wide range of talent, age, and political affiliation win this. Havey Milk and Jack Kemp in the same award ceremony? That's awesome! All 16 truly deserve this!

    July 30, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  6. Mike

    Go Mr. Hawkings, you deserve it.

    July 30, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  7. Matt

    Yipee another accolade for the U-Boat commander.

    July 30, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  8. Maria from VT

    great picks

    July 30, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  9. Mike

    Some on this list deserve recognition for their work. Others, not so much. Not that they didn't all do some positive things but awarding somebody like Kennedy is like saying good job even though there are as many equally depolorable things you've done throughout your life as honorable.

    July 30, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  10. annie s

    President Bush used this award to reward his cronies – foreign leaders and cabinet members/advisers who helped him wage his war in Iraq. President Obama has selected a diverse group of recipients, all of great merit. Excellent choices, Mr. President, thank you for restoring credibility to this Medal.

    July 30, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  11. Trade Freedom for Security, Lose Both

    Why are we recognizing non-US citizens, but not recognizing the women and men of our armed forces who, more than all these recipients, actually do something for Freedom?

    July 30, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  12. Expat American

    Sarah Palin should be one of the recipients for the Presidential Medal of Honor.

    She was instrumental in revealing the true bigoted simpleton face of the Christian Conservative Right to the global media and educated world.

    A world that actually exists if you drive a couple miles past the Wal-Mart.

    July 30, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  13. GOP = 21st century dodo

    There's just no point in arguing with what's left of the GOP. You'll just get hit with a barrage of sophisms, red herrings, straw men, etc etc etc. Facts? Forget about facts. With their only news source being conservative radio and FOX news, they'll readily and only accept as fact whatever wheezed out of Rush's mouth and whatever Glenn Beck dreamed about last night.

    July 30, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  14. Citizen B

    This list is so incredible, it brings tears. Thank you Mr. President, for recognizing a group as diverse as our nation.

    July 30, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  15. nom deplume, esq.

    Can't help but notice that the only recipient who isn't a member of what we lawyers call a "protected class" is Kemp, and he's dead.

    All good people, to be sure, but by making this some sort of affirmative action/true believer ceremony (with the token, and conveniently dead, conservative) it does detract from their accomplishments, IMHO.

    July 30, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  16. Peter E

    Unfortunately the 'Medal of Freedom' lost any credibility once Bush Jr. awarded it to George Slam-Dunk-Case-For-Iraq-War Tenet.

    July 30, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  17. Dee from Rochester, NY

    One can see that much deliberation went into these selections. Congrats all awardees and thanks, Mr. President, for restoring this award to its deserved meritorius status.

    July 30, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  18. kelly-orlando fl

    Who do you think he left out from the republican side....Sarah Palin the first hillbilly nominee for VP. Thanks but no thanks....

    July 30, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  19. dominican mama 4 Obama

    An All-Star INCLUSIVE list representative of how selfless dedication by people of different origins has improved the conditions of makind on this earth.

    Absolutely fabulous, and such a strong message to our nation, by our President, that people from all walks of life have positive things to contribute.

    Stop the hate.

    Obama 2012

    July 30, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  20. Peter E

    Ted Kennedy, or 'Uncle Ted' as Obama calls him surely deserves the award... for hand selecting Obama to be the democratic nominee and bullying his party into selecting him as well. Or were you really so naive that you thought Obama got elected based on his political prowess and experience?

    July 30, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  21. Babaganush

    Sen. Kennedy? Really. What has he done other than hang around for a long time?

    July 30, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  22. Julio

    In my opinion Senator Kenedy doesn't deserve it so much however it is nice to see at last someone remember "Stephen Hawking."

    I hope the Steele and his Republicans are not going to criticize President Obama for not chosing Dick Cheney.

    July 30, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  23. Laverne

    Say what you want to about President Obama, he is one of the most thoughtful leaders we have had in a long time and I really appreciate that.

    July 30, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  24. Larry

    Good picks Mr. President.

    July 30, 2009 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  25. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    It's good Teddy is getting this honor. He's well deserving of it. I'm shocked to see Sidney Portier on the list.

    July 30, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
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