WASHINGTON (CNN) - A pioneer, a preacher, an activist and an athlete are among 16 people who President Barack Obama will honor Wednesday with the Presidential Medal of Freedom - the nation's highest civilian honor.
The recipients, said the White House, were chosen for their relentless breaking of barriers and for setting "a standard to which we all should strive."
The annual award was created after World War II when President Harry Truman wanted to honor civilian service during the war.
The 16 who will be honored at a White House ceremony Wednesday afternoon are:
- Nancy Goodman Brinker: The death of her sister from breast cancer prompted Brinker to found Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which has now grown to become the world's leading breast cancer grass-roots organization.
- Pedro José Greer Jr.: Among the many hats Dr. Greer wears, he is the founder of Camillus Health Concern, an agency that provides medical care to more than 10,000 homeless patients every year in Miami, Florida.
- Stephen Hawking: The internationally-recognized theoretical physicist has spent his career making complex scientific concepts accessible to the layman, including penning the best-selling novel, "A Brief History of Time."
- Jack Kemp: The quarterback-turned-politician will be honored posthumously for the years he spent, leading up to his death in May, raising awareness of and encouraging development in underserved communities.
- Sen. Edward Kennedy: During his 46 years as a lawmaker, Kennedy has called health care reform the "cause of his life," championing nearly every health care bill enacted by Congress in the last five decades. However, the ailing Kennedy will miss Wednesday's ceremony due to his ongoing battle with brain cancer, the White House said. His sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died on Tuesday, also received the Medal of Honor in 1984 from President Ronald Reagan.
- Billie Jean King: With her victory over Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match in 1973, and in the years since, King has champion gender equality not only in sports but in all areas of public life.
- Rev. Joseph Lowery: With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights icon co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading civil rights organization, and has continued to highlight the cause worldwide, including speaking out forcefully against apartheid in South Africa until its end in 1994.
- Joe Medicine Crow-High Bird: The last living Plains Indian war chief and author of seminal works in Native American history is also the last person alive to have received direct oral testimony from a participant in the Battle of the Little Bighorn: his grandfather, a scout for Gen. George Custer.
- Harvey Milk: The first openly gay person elected into office in a major U.S. city, Milk is revered as a pioneer of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender civil rights movement. He will be honored posthumously as well.
- Sandra Day O'Connor: At a time when women rarely entered the legal profession, O'Connor graduated Stanford Law School third in her class and went on to become the first woman ever to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Sidney Poitier: The first African-American to win a Best Actor Academy Award, Poitier also broke ground by insisting that the crew in one of his films be at least 50 percent African-American and by starring in the first mainstream movie portraying interracial marriage.
- Chita Rivera: The winner of two Tony Awards, Rivera was also the first Hispanic to receive the Kennedy Center Honor, awarded annually for exemplary lifetime achievement in the performing arts.
- Mary Robinson: Since ending her term as the first female president of Ireland, Robinson has headed Realizing Rights, an initiative that ensures that human rights is not forgotten as nations chart a course toward globalization.
- Janet Davison Rowley: Her work on chromosome abnormalities in human leukemia and lymphoma has led to dramatically improved survival rates for previously incurable cancers.
- Desmond Tutu: An Anglican archbishop and a leading anti-apartheid activist, Tutu is widely regarded as "South Africa's moral conscience" and chaired the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission when it was created in 1995 to discover and reveal past wrongdoing.
- Muhammad Yunus: A Bangladeshi economist and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, Yunus pioneered the use of micro-loans to provide credit to the poor without collateral - a successful model that has been emulated worldwide.
Updated: 10:35 a.m.
Under Obama, the award takes on a whole new meaning.
"A Brief History of Time" is not a "novel" as is written here, it is a work of non-fiction.
They should give this metal to Carl Rove. A true American hero. He killed that Sodom Husein guy that blew up the world trade center. Now he needs to take on the evil narcisstic obamabots and the communist ACORN people. He won't let them ram this healthcare down our throats. Long live Carl Rove! Have a nice day!
Is this something Eunice Kennedy Shriver ever won? If not, she sure should have.
A first time for this list to be truly representative of the patchwork quilt that is the real America.
Outstanding statement Mr. President. May Gog continue to protect you during these "artificially created" turbulent times.
Oh never mind, I see that Ms Shriver won it in 1984.....
Dr. Medicine Crow has really done the Crow Nation and the United States proud. He served with distinction in WWll, he received a Bronze Star and was made a Knight of the French Legion of Honor for his military service. He has been the Crow Nation tribal historian for more than 50 years and is a renowned story teller. I am proud to say Dr. Medicine Crow is my grandfather.
Dear Mr, President:
Job well done with your selections!
Continue to stay the course, Mr. President
breaking of barriers is important, true enough
I think honesty, hard work, getting up every morning and making sure the family is doing well is also important
we need more work honored from the keeping communities together, families together, slowing down the pace and reinforcing relationships, taking time with each other
what boundries need to be broken that are more important than quality of friendships, community values and good solid quality of work.
Not as sexy as breaking of barriers but as or more important
Teddy is well deserving of the medal as well as the other recipients.
Great people being honored by a Great President.
Congratulations to all 16. What a wonderful representation of America these people present!!
Ted Kennedy sure does deserve it. He is awesome and there is no one that cares about America more than Teddy.
I cannot believe they include Kennedy along with these heros.
The Clintons definitely derserve the honor, definitley not showmanship (for the next election).
congratulation to all of you.
These people were all pioneers, taking risks to advance the plight of under-represented, underpriviledged or at-risk people (from social to medical breakthroughs), and/or were 'firsts' of some sort, making achievements that have impacted society and lives in a positive way. Good choices, all of them. Congratulations to the awardees.
obama has lowered the status of this medal with some of his choices.
A very Diverse, well represented, and deserving group of extraordinary individuals..... speaks well of our Great President! God Be with you sir, as you keep fighting the good fight for all of us, even if some of us do not yet know it!!
A great list – they all diserve the honor.
Great! I am happy to see Kennedy among the others.
It is very interesting, by comparison, to look at the people that Bush gave the metal to.....