Last updated on March 24th, 2016 at 02:16 pm
WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Barack Obama presented 17 recipients the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards were presented at the White House on November 24.
President Obama said that he “[looked] forward to presenting these 17 distinguished Americans with our nation’s highest civilian honor. From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans.”
The following individuals were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:
Shirley Chisholm made history in 1968 by becoming the first African American woman elected to Congress, beginning the first of seven terms in the House of Representatives. In 1969 she became one of the founding members of what would become the Congressional Black Caucus. Not satisfied, Chisholm went on to make history yet again, becoming the first major-party African American female candidate to make a bid for the U.S. presidency when she ran for the Democratic nomination in 1972. She was a champion of minority education and employment opportunities throughout her tenure in Congress. After leaving Congress in 1983, Chisolm taught at Mount Holyoke College and frequently lectured and gave speeches at colleges and universities throughout the country.
Billy Frank, Jr.
Billy Frank, Jr. was a tireless advocate for Indian treaty rights and environmental stewardship, whose activism paved the way for the ‘Boldt decision,’ which reaffirmed tribal co-management of salmon resources in the state of Washington. Frank led effective ‘fish-ins,’ which were modeled after sit-ins of the civil rights movement, during the tribal ‘fish wars’ of the 1960s and 1970s. His magnetic personality and tireless advocacy over more than five decades made him a revered figure both domestically and abroad.
Frank was the recipient of many awards, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award for Humanitarian Achievement. Frank left in his wake an Indian Country strengthened by greater sovereignty and a nation fortified by his example of service to one’s community, his humility, and his dedication to the principles of human rights and environmental sustainability.
Katherine G. Johnson
Katherine G. Johnson is a pioneer in American space history. A NASA mathematician, Johnson’s computations have influenced every major space program from Mercury through the Shuttle program. Johnson was hired as a research mathematician at the Langley Research Center with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that preceded NASA, after they opened hiring to African Americans and women. Johnson exhibited exceptional technical leadership and is known especially for her calculations of the 1961 trajectory for Alan Shepard’s flight (first American in space), the 1962 verification of the first flight calculation made by an electronic computer for John Glenn’s orbit (first American to orbit the earth), and the 1969 Apollo 11 trajectory to the moon. In her later NASA career, Johnson worked on the Space Shuttle program and the Earth Resources Satellite and encouraged students to pursue careers in science and technology fields.
Willie Mays was a professional baseball player, spending most of his 22 seasons as a center fielder for the New York and San Francisco Giants. Mays ended his career with 660 home runs, making him the fifth all-time record-holder. Known as ‘The Say Hey Kid,’ Mays was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979 and landed on MLB’s All-Time team.
In 1951, Mays became one of the first African American players in Major League Baseball history and won the Rookie of the Year award. Mays also served his country in the United States Army. In his return to Major League Baseball, Mays won the MVP award, and in the 1954 World Series Mays led the Giants to a surprise victory, while making one of the most spectacular plays in sports history, later known simply as ‘The Catch.’
Completing the list are:
Minoru Yasui (posthumous)
Yogi Berra (posthumous)