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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Medal of Freedom Awarded At White House

Recipients Include A Congressman and Former U.S. President

Fifteen iconic Americans received the prestigious Medal of Freedom award today from President Barack Obama in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. 

President Obama holds a Medal of Freedom award. 
One of 15 awarded in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.  Photo/CD Brown.
Among those awarded:  The Boston Celtics' NBA great Bill Russell; Stan Musial, baseball legend and Hall of Fame first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals; Congressman John Lewis, American hero and giant of the Civil Rights Movement; Warren Buffett, investor, industrialist, and philanthropist; Dr. Maya Angelou, author, poet, educator, producer, actress, filmmaker, and civil rights activist; cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Dr. Tom Little (Posthumous); Gerda Weismann Klein, Jewish Holocaust survivor;  artist Jasper Johns; John H. Adams co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council;  Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany; former president George H.W. Bush, 41st U.S. president; Sylvia Mendez, Mexican Puerto Rican civil rights activist denied entrance in an all-white school; Jean Kennedy Smith, founder of VSA, and John J. Sweeney, President Emeritus of the AFL-CIO.   

The Medal of Freedom is America’s highest civilian honor, awarded to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Congressman John Lewis was asked how he thought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might feel about the occasion:

"He would be proud and pleased", said Lewis.  It's an American day.  Black, white, Asian American, Latino, men, women.  In different ways I think we all have made a contribution to humanity.  We all have played our role in helping make America a better place."

Lewis will house his medal in Atlanta, where he has a home there, and says he will wear the medal "from time to time."

"I will put it in a well placed place."

Congressman Lewis, who marched during the Civil Rights era, said today made all the beatings he suffered during that era worth it.  

Before accepting his medal, President Obama stated, "“If not us, then who?  If not now, then when?”  It’s a question John Lewis has been asking his entire life.  It’s what led him back to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma after he had already been beaten within an inch of his life days before.  It’s why, time and again, he faced down death so that all of us could share equally in the joys of life.  It’s why all these years later, he is known as the Conscience of the United States Congress, still speaking his mind on issues of justice and equality.  And generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind; an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now."

"It was worth it", Lewis told us.  "It was worth all the beatings, all the sit-ins, all the indecencies.  I'd do it again."

And he almost did. 

During a Tea Party rally late last year after the Health Care bill was passed, Congressman Lewis was spat upon by disgruntled Tea Party members and called a racial slur, giving more credence to the adage, 'we've come a long way, but still have so very far to go.'

Congressman Lewis represents 5th District of the people of Atlanta, Georgia.

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More comments from the recipients:   "In route to Washington, DC as I along with fourteen other honored Americans prepare to receive the President's Medal of Freedom tomorrow. I am so blessed and grateful to be considered for this honor. I am grateful." - Maya Angelou on her Facebook wall.

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