19 Get the Presidential Medal of Freedom Today

Biden will honor politicians, activists, athletes, and more
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 3, 2024 8:41 AM CDT
19 Americans Get the Presidential Medal of Freedom Today
Former Vice President Al Gore speaks about climate change at the Annual Meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 17, 2024.   (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

Clarence B. Jones says he thought a prankster was on the line when he answered the phone and heard the caller say they were from the White House. "I said, 'Is this a joke or is this serious?'" Jones recalled. The caller swore that President Biden wanted to recognize Jones with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Jones, 93, will be honored for his activism during the Civil Rights Movement. He's a lawyer who provided legal counsel to Martin Luther King Jr. and helped write the opening paragraphs of the "I Have a Dream" speech. Jones is among a diverse group of 19 to be honored Friday for "exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors." The others are, per the AP:

  • Former New York mayor and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg.
  • Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina.
  • Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who also served as transportation secretary, labor secretary, and president of the American Red Cross.
  • Climate activist and former Vice President Al Gore.
  • Former senator, secretary of state, and climate envoy John Kerry.
  • Former Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat who died in 2013.
  • Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
  • Medgar Evers will receive posthumous recognition for his work fighting segregation in Mississippi in the 1960s. He was 37 when he was fatally shot in June 1963.

  • Michelle Yeoh last year became the first Asian woman to win an Academy Award for best actress for her performance in Everything, Everywhere All at Once.
  • Jim Thorpe, who died in 1953, was the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States.
  • Judy Shepard co-founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation, named after her son, a gay 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who was murdered in 1998.
  • Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit Catholic priest who founded and runs Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention and rehabilitation program.
  • Phil Donahue, a journalist and former daytime TV talk-show host.
  • Katie Ledecky, the most decorated female swimmer in history.
  • Opal Lee, an activist best known for pushing to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Biden did so in 2021.
  • Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space and the second female director of NASA's Johnson Space Center.
  • Jane Rigby, an astronomer who is chief scientist of the world's most powerful telescope.
  • Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers and the first Hispanic woman to lead a national union in the US.
(More Presidential Medal of Freedom stories.)

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