Clinton Honors 15 With Presidential Medals
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 15) -- President Bill Clinton honored 15 Americans with the Presidential Medal of Freedom today, saying their lives show the impact that dedicated individuals can have.
"Even a long, long life doesn't take long to live and passes in the flash of an eye," Clinton told a gathering in the White House East Room. "They have shown that if we live it well, we can leave this earth better for our children."
Clinton used the 69th birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. to present the medals, and he honored several of the winners for their work in the early days of the civil rights movement. The Presidential Medal of Freedom award is the nation's highest civilian honor.
Clinton said James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), never sought the limelight or got the credit he deserved for his early civil rights work.
"But today, he can't avoid the limelight and his long overdue recognition has come to pass," Clinton said.
Clinton recalled another of the winners, Mario Obledo, heard that a public swimming pool in his native Texas was turning away Mexican-American youngsters.
Obledo, who later co-founded the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, drove 200 miles for a swim, was turned away, filed a lawsuit and won on behalf of the town's Mexican-American children.
"Finally they had a chance to jump into that public pool," Clinton said.
The other recipients of the awards were:
- Arnold Aronson, founder of the Leadership Conference on Civil
Rights, a lobbying organization for civil rights groups.
- Brooke Astor, a philanthropist who helped revitalize the New York Public Library and gave to homeless shelters. Clinton called her "America's guardian angel."
- Robert Coles, a psychologist, writer and advisor to President John Kennedy on racial issues.
- Justin Dart Jr., an advocate for the rights of the disabled and force behind the Americans with Disabilities Act. Clinton praised him as "my guide" to the needs of disabled Americans.
- Frances Hesselbein, an expert on not-for-profit corporations
who served with the Girl Scouts of America from 1976 to 1990.
- Fred Korematsu, who challenged internment orders during World War II and helped spur a reparations movement for Japanese Americans.
- Sol Linowitz, a lawyer-businessman, foreign affairs expert and former U.S. representative to the Organization of American States.
- Wilma Mankiller, the former chief of the Cherokee Nation, known for her work in reducing infant mortality and improving health and education among the Cherokees.
- Margaret Murie, an environmental activist whose work with The Wilderness Society led to laws protecting Alaskan lands.
- Elliot Richardson, who held four Cabinet positions -- secretary
of health, education and welfare, attorney general, secretary of
defense and secretary of commerce -- under presidents Richard Nixon and
Gerald Ford. Richardson became the central figure in the "Staurday Night Massacre" when he resigned as Nixon's attorney general rather than fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Clinton noted Richardson's "versatile, indefatigable career" and his independence and courage during the Watergate scandal.
- David Rockefeller, the former chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank and philanthropist devoted to the arts, literacy, international family planning and treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
- Albert Shanker, who Clinton honored posthumously for his work at the helm of the American Federation of Teachers. Shanker died of cancer in February 1997 at age 68. Clinton called him "a leader of immense stature who always spoke his mind."
- Adm. Elmo "Bud" Zumwalt Jr., former chief of naval operations and an advocate for compensation for the health problems of Vietnam veterans.
Clinton is set to travel to New York today to urge Wall Street financiers to expand opportunities for women and minorities. He will participate in a get-together that is part of Jesse Jackson's "Wall Street Project" conference bringing together financial and political leaders.