Actor Sidney Poitier and actress, singer and dancer Chita Rivera will be among the 16 recipients of President Obama’s first Medal of Freedom Awards as president next month, the White House said Thursday.
They will be part of a group that includes physicist Stephen Hawking, Sen. Ted Kennedy, Billie Jean King, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the late San Francisco Mayor Harvey Milk and Bishop Desmond Tutu.
The White House said this year’s list of recipients, to be honored in ceremonies Aug. 12, were chosen as “agents of change.”
“These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds,” the president said in a statement. “Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way. “
A White House news release termed Poitier, the first Africa-American to be nominated and win an Academy Award for Best Actor, as “a groundbreaking actor” who used his status to aid change.
He was cited for insisting that the film crew on "The Lost Man" be "at least 50 percent African American, and starred in the first mainstream movies portraying 'acceptable' interracial marriages and interracial kissing."
Rivera was honored both in recognition of her career and “inspiring a generation of women to follow in her footsteps.”
Others to be honored are Jack Kemp, a former congressman, cabinet secretary and GOP candidate for vice president; the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement since the early 1950s; Nancy Goodman Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure; Dr. Pedro Jose Greer is a physician who founded the a Miami gency that provides medical care to over 10,000 homeless patients a year; Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, the last living Plains Indian war chief and the author of seminal works in Native American history and culture; Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Janet Davison Rowley, an American human geneticist and the first scientist to identify a chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers; and Dr. Muhammad Yunus is a Nobel Peace Prize winning leader in anti-poverty efforts who pioneered the use of “micro-loans” to provide credit to poor individuals without collateral.