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Popular Topics in Social Sciences
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Congratulations
 
Congratulations to the Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 11/20/13
Last updated on: 11/20/13
 
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Sally Ride aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1984.

On November 20, 2013, in a ceremony held in the East Room of the White House, President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor to 16 "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." Among the recipients were the late Bayard Rustin and Sally Ride, whose medals were accepted by their surviving partners, Walter Naegle and Tam O'Shaugnessy.

As Walter Branigin reported in the Washington Post, before bestowing the medals, the President paid tribute to each recipient.

The choice of Sally Ride to receive the honor was no surprise. In addition to being the first woman and youngest person in space, Ride later served as director of NASA's Office of Exploration and became a renowned professor, scientist, and innovator at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. Her lesbianism did not become generally known until July 2012 when the announcement of her death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 61 acknowledged her longtime partner, Tam O'Shaughnessy.

The choice of outspoken activist Bayard Rustin, who died in 1987, was a surprise, but there is no question that he is a worthy recipient. One of the key African-American civil rights activists of the twentieth century, Rustin and his legacy have long been obscured because of embarrassment over his homosexuality. Nevertheless, he is widely regarded as one of the most brilliant tacticians of the civil rights movement.

Although Rustin's activism dates back to 1941, when he worked closely with J. Philip Randolph to organize the 1941 African-American March on Washington, he is best known for his close association with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1950s and 1960s. Arguably, it was Rustin who most deeply influenced King's understanding and use of nonviolent civil disobedience.

Because of homophobia in the civil rights movement and in society generally, Rustin often worked in a characteristically self-effacing, behind-the-scenes way, ceding center stage to King. Together they created the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which they hoped to use to further the nonviolent civil rights protest movement in the South. He is perhaps best known for organizing the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, where King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

In his later years, Rustin continued to fight for social justice. He protested the Vietnam War and became active in the gay rights movement.

In addition to Ride and Rustin, the following individuals were awarded the 2013 Presidential Medals of Freedom: baseball player Ernie Banks; former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee; President Bill Clinton; late Senator Daniel Inouye; Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman; former Senator Richard Lugar; country music legend Loretta Lynn; Nobel Prize-winning chemist Mario Molina; jazz musician Arturo Sandoval; basketball coach Dean Smith; feminist writer and activist Gloria Steinem; minister, author, and organizer C. T. Vivian; former appellate judge Patricia Wald; and television entrepreneur and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey.

In the video below, CNN reports on Bayard Rustin.

In the video below, Tam O'Shaugnessy accepts the Presidential Medal of Freedom on behalf of Sally Ride.

Below is a video of the entire ceremony.

 
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