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Topics In the News
 
Posthumous Presidential Medals of Freedom for Sally Ride and Bayard Rustin
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 08/08/13
Last updated on: 08/10/13
 
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Bayard Rustin.

On August 8, 2013, President Obama announced sixteen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 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. Among the 2013 recipients are the the late astronaut and science educator Sally Ride and the late civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. The awards will be presented at the White House later this year.

In a press release from the White House, President Obama said, "The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours. This year's honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation's gratitude."

The choice of Sally Ride was no surprise. The President announced in May that he intended to bestow the honor on her. 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.

In May, the President said, "We remember Sally Ride not just as a national hero, but as a role model to generations of young women. Sally inspired us to reach for the stars, and she advocated for a greater focus on the science, technology, engineering and math that would help us get there. Sally showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve, and I look forward to welcoming her family to the White House as we celebrate her life and legacy."

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 will be awarded the 2013 Presidential Medals of Freedom.

Known to many as "Mr. Cub," Ernie Banks is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. During his 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, he played in 11 All-Star Games, hit over 500 home runs, and became the first National League player to win Most Valuable Player honors in back-to-back years. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year of eligibility.

Ben Bradlee is one of the most respected newsmen of his generation. During his tenure as executive editor of The Washington Post, Bradlee oversaw coverage of the Watergate scandal, successfully challenged the Federal Government over the right to publish the Pentagon Papers, and guided the newspaper through some of its most challenging moments. He also served in the Navy during World War II.

President Clinton was the 42nd President of the United States. Before taking office, he served as Governor and Attorney General of the State of Arkansas. Following his second term, President Clinton established the Clinton Foundation to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote health and wellness, and protect the environment. He also formed the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund with President George W. Bush in 2010.

Daniel Inouye was a lifelong public servant. As a young man, he fought in World War II with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for which he received the Medal of Honor. He was later elected to the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate. Senator Inouye was the first Japanese American to serve in Congress, representing the people of Hawaii from the moment they joined the Union.

Daniel Kahneman is a pioneering scholar of psychology. After escaping Nazi occupation in World War II, Dr. Kahneman immigrated to Israel, where he served in the Israel Defense Forces and trained as a psychologist. Alongside Amos Tversky, he applied cognitive psychology to economic analysis, laying the foundation for a new field of research and earning the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002. He is currently a professor at Princeton University.

Richard Lugar represented Indiana in the United States Senate for more than 30 years. An internationally respected statesman, he is best known for his bipartisan leadership and decades-long commitment to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. Prior to serving in Congress, Senator Lugar was a Rhodes Scholar and Mayor of Indianapolis from 1968 to 1975. He currently serves as President of the Lugar Center.

Loretta Lynn is a country music legend. Raised in rural Kentucky, she emerged as one of the first successful female country music vocalists in the early 1960s, courageously breaking barriers in an industry long dominated by men. Lynn's numerous accolades include the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

Mario Molina is a visionary chemist and environmental scientist. Born in Mexico, Dr. Molina came to America to pursue his graduate degree. He later earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering how chlorofluorocarbons deplete the ozone layer. Dr. Molina is a professor at the University of California, San Diego; Director of the Mario Molina Center for Energy and Environment; and a member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Arturo Sandoval is a celebrated jazz trumpeter, pianist, and composer. Born outside Havana, he became a protégé of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie and gained international acclaim as a dynamic performer. He defected to the United States in 1990 and later became an American citizen. He has been awarded nine Grammy Awards and is widely considered one of the greatest living jazz artists.

Dean Smith was head coach of the University of North Carolina basketball team from 1961 to 1997. In those 36 years, he earned 2 national championships, was named National Coach of the Year multiple times, and retired as the winningest men's college basketball coach in history. Ninety-six percent of his players graduated from college. Smith has also remained a dedicated civil rights advocate throughout his career.

Gloria Steinem is a renowned writer and activist for women's equality. She was a leader in the women's liberation movement, co-founded Ms. magazine, and helped launch a wide variety of groups and publications dedicated to advancing civil rights. Steinem has received dozens of awards over the course of her career, and remains an active voice for women's rights.

C.T. Vivian is a distinguished minister, author, and organizer. A leader in the Civil Rights Movement and friend to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he participated in Freedom Rides and sit-ins across our country. Dr. Vivian also helped found numerous civil rights organizations, including Vision, the National Anti-Klan Network, and the Center for Democratic Renewal. In 2012, he returned to serve as interim President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Patricia Wald is one of the most respected appellate judges of her generation. After graduating as 1 of only 11 women in her Yale University Law School class, she became the first woman appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and served as Chief Judge from 1986-1991. She later served on the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. Wald currently serves on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

Oprah Winfrey is one of the world's most successful broadcast journalists. She is best known for creating The Oprah Winfrey Show, which became the highest rated talk show in America for 25 years. Winfrey has long been active in philanthropic causes and expanding opportunities for young women. She has received numerous awards throughout her career, including the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2002 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2010.

The clip below is a trailer for a documentary about Rustin called "Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin."

 
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