The Presidential Medal of Freedom
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
Sidney Poitier resisted racial inequality in the entertainment industry, wrote the renowned book The Measure of a Man and became the first black man to win an Oscar® for Best Actor.
Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor defied gender odds and became the first female justice of the Supreme Court.
Dr. Pedro José Greer Jr.
Dr. Pedro José Greer Jr. has been a longtime advocate of providing medical care to the uninsured and founded the Camillus Health Concern for 10,000 poor and homeless patients a year.
Mary Robinson's past work as the United Nations high commissioner for human rights helped her to become Ireland's first female president.
Joe Medicine Crow
Joe Medicine Crow is considered a Crow Indian historian and, at 95 years old, is the last living Plains Indian war chief.
Muhammad Yunus founded Grameen Bank for the poor in Bangladesh and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his groundbreaking discovery of microlending.
Chita Rivera changed Broadway with her performing arts excellence and became the first Hispanic to win a Kennedy Center Honor and the first Latina to receive the Medal of Freedom.
Desmond Tutu, who fueled his anti-apartheid activism as the former Archbishop of South Africa.