Lowery, Poitier Among Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients

Rev. Joseph Lowery
Rev. Joseph Lowery

President Obama recently named 16 recipients of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

America’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals who 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.

This year’s awardees were chosen for their work as agents of change. Among their many accomplishments in fields ranging from sports and art to science and medicine to politics and public policy, these men and women have changed the world for the better. They have blazed trails and broken down barriers. They have discovered new theories, launched new initiatives, and opened minds to new possibilities.

President Obama said, “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. “Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive. It is my great honor to award them the Medal of Freedom.”

President Obama will present the awards at a ceremony on Wednesday, August 12.

The following individuals will receive the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom:Nancy Goodman
founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s leading breast cancer grass roots organization;

Pedro José Greer-
Jr. a physician and the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at the Florida International University School of Medicine; Stephen
internationallyrecognized theoretical physicist, having overcome a severe physical disability due to motor neuron disease;

Jack Kemp-
served as a U.S. Congressman (1971 – 1989), Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (1989 – 1993), and Republican Nominee for Vice President (1996); Sen.
Edward Kennedy-
of Massachusetts; has served in the United States Senate for forty-six years; Billie Jean
acclaimed tennis player;

Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier
Rev. Joseph Lowery-
a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement since the early 1950s; Joe Medicine Crow
– High Bird-
the last living Plains Indian war chief;

Harvey Milk-
the first openly gay elected official from a major city in the United States when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977; Sandra
Day O’Connor-
the first woman ever to sit on the United States Supreme Court; Sidney Poitiergroundbreaking

actor, becoming the top black movie star in the 1950s and 1960s; Chita Riveraaccomplished

and versatile actress, singer, and dancer;

Mary Robinson-
the first female President of Ireland (1990 – 1997) and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997 – 2002);

Janet Davison Rowley-
Blum Riese Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine; Desmond Tutu-
Anglican Archbishop emeritus who was a leading antiapartheid activist in South Africa; and Muhammad
global leader in anti-poverty efforts, and has pioneered the use of “micro-loans” to provide credit to poor individuals without collateral.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom has its roots in the Medal of Freedom established by President Harry Truman in 1945 to honor civilian service during World War II.]

President John F. Kennedy nominally revived the medal in 1963 through Executive Order 11085. In practical terms, this order created what amounted to a new decoration, with totally different insignia, vastly expanded purpose, and far higher prestige.

The medal is awarded annually, on or near the Fourth of July, and at other times as chosen by the President. Recipients are selected by the President, either on his own initiative or based on recommendations. The order reviving the medal also expanded the size and the responsibilities of the Distinguished Civilian Service Awards Board so it could serve as a major source of such recommendations.

The medal may be awarded to an individual more than once (for example, John Kenneth Galbraith and Colin Powell), and may also be awarded posthumously (for example, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Roberto Clemente, and John F. Kennedy).

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