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Obama Names Diverse Group of Medal of Freedom Recipients

Civil rights veteran Joseph Lowery, anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu, and medical school dean Pedro Jose Greer are among 16 recipients of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the White House announced Thursday.

“These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds,” President Barack Obama said. “ 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, Aug. 12. The Recipients are:

  • Nancy Goodman Brinker is the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
  • Dr. Pedro Jose Greer is a physician and the assistant dean of academic affairs at the Florida International University School of Medicine, where he also serves as chair of the Department of Humanities, Health and Society.
  • Stephen Hawking is an internationally-recognized theoretical physicist, and the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University.
  • Jack Kemp, who passed away in May 2009, 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 M. Kennedy has served in the United States Senate for 46 years.
  • Tennis player Billie Jean King has helped champion gender equality issues not only in sports, but in all areas of public life.
  • Reverend Joseph Lowery helped organize the Montgomery bus boycott after Rosa Parks was denied a seat, and later co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading civil rights organization, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, the last living Plains Indian war chief, is the author of seminal works in Native American history and culture.
  • Harvey Milk became 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.
  • Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman ever to sit on the United States Supreme Court.
  • Sidney Poitier is the first African-American to be nominated and win a Best Actor Academy Award, receive an award at a top international film festival (Venice Film Festival), and be the top grossing movie star in the United States.
  • Chita Rivera is an accomplished and versatile actress, singer, and dancer, who has won two Tony Awards and received seven more nominations. In 2002, she became the first Hispanic recipient of the coveted Kennedy Center Honor.
  • Mary Robinson was the first female president of Ireland (1990–1997) and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997–2002), a post that required her to end her presidency four months early.
  • Dr. Janet Davison Rowley is the Blum Riese Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago. She is an American human geneticist and the first scientist to identify a chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers.
  • Desmond Tutu is an Anglican Archbishop emeritus who was a leading anti-apartheid activist in South Africa and widely regarded as “South Africa’s moral conscience.” He received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work through the South African Council of Churches in 1984.
  • Dr. Muhammad Yunus is a global leader in anti-poverty efforts, and has pioneered the use of “micro-loans” to provide credit to poor individuals without collateral.

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