On August 12, 2009, President Barack Obama commended these men and women with the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For their unparalleled achievements, we applaud the following recipients:
Nancy Goodman Brinker
Nancy Goodman Brinker founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure, an organization named for her late sister that has since become the face of breast cancer awareness.
Harvey Milk had the courage to speak out for gay rights and became the first openly gay man elected to public office; he was assassinated in 1978, and the award was accepted by his nephew, Stuart Milk.
Dr. Janet Davison Rowley
Dr. Janet Davison Rowley was the first scientist to detect abnormal chromosomes as the cause of leukemia and other cancers.
Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King challenged sexism everywhere as a tennis legend and has continued to be a gender equality activist throughout her athletic and professional career, winning a 2008 Minerva Award.
Jack Kemp transitioned from playing professional football to working at the forefront of politics, becoming the ninth U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; he passed away in May 2009.
Senator Edward "Ted" M. Kennedy
Senator Edward "Ted" M. Kennedy has dedicated much of his political career to healthcare reform; the award was accepted by his daughter, Kara, due to his long struggle with brain cancer.
The Rev. Joseph Lowry
The Rev. Joseph Lowry marched alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as the co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a prominent civil rights activist for more than 50 years.
Sidney Poitier and the others honored