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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 15, 1998


The President today awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 15 individuals.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established by President Kennedy by Executive Order on February 22, 1963. It is the highest civilian award of our Government. The Medal is awarded only by the President to those persons whom he deems to 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. The Medal may be awarded to citizens of other nations and may be awarded posthumously. President Kennedy announced the first Presidential Medal of Freedom awards in 1963. However, President Johnson made the first presentations of the Medal in a ceremony at the White House on December 6, 1963. Recipients receive a medal and a citation signed by the President.

The text of the citations awarded today read as follows:


Arnold Aronson has labored quietly and selflessly for more than 50 years in the vineyards of our Nation's civil rights movement. As co-founder of the pioneering Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a driving force behind the passage of the landmark civil rights legislation of the 1950s and 1960s, longtime President of the LCCR Education Fund, and Program Director for the National Jewish Community Relations Council, he has shown us how to work toward equality through cooperation and has helped to unite all Americans across the lines that have sometimes divided us. We all are better because Arnie Aronson has lived among us.


Legendary in her beloved New York and admired throughout our Nation for her wide-ranging and hands-on philanthropy, Brooke Astor has given generously of her wealth, her time, and her compassion for the common good. She has put into action her simple philosophy that "if you have enough money for three meals a day and you're not too busy, you ought to do something for others." From her care for the homeless and underprivileged, to her devotion to literacy, conservation, and cultural enrichment, she has indelibly touched the lives of millions. With enthusiasm and energy, Brooke Astor has shone as a jewel of hope for us all.


A gifted psychiatrist, teacher, and writer, Robert Coles has spent a lifetime unlocking the mysteries of childhood experience. With art and literature as his guide, he has listened to the voices of children worldwide and revealed for us their unique perceptions of race, class, history, and spirituality. In the process, he has documented the perils of poverty and racism and challenged us to live lives of moral purpose through citizen service. With an open mind and a generous heart, Robert Coles has broadened our horizons and led us to a new understanding of our children and ourselves.


"The purpose of human society," Justin Dart has said, "is to empower every individual to live life to his or her God-given potential." He has made that purpose his own. Since contracting polio as a young man, he has worked for the independence, inclusion, and empowerment of people with disabilities. A leading architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act and a driving force behind its passage, he has had a profound impact on the public policy of this Nation. Justin Dart has earned our thanks for helping us recognize the possibility within each individual and for tenaciously advocating equal access to the American Dream for all our people.


Visionary civil rights hero, James Farmer has inspired millions of Americans with his passionate convictions, committed activism, and unwavering dignity. As founder more than 50 years ago of the Congress of Racial Equality, he embraced the principles of direct action and nonviolence, leading the first sit-ins to protest racial segregation. His organization of and participation in the Freedom Rides of the 1960s focused national attention on inequities in public accommodations and often put his life at risk. The changes he wrought are with us to this day. Our Nation proudly salutes James Farmer for his extraordinary work to combat discrimination and bring racial harmony and healing to our land.


Frances Hesselbein has devoted herself to changing lives for the better. Rising from a volunteer troop leader to chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of America, she reinvigorated the organization with her commitment to inclusiveness and to upholding the Girl Scout mission of empowering each Scout to reach her highest potential. Under her guidance, the number of minority Girl Scouts tripled and overall membership soared. She has worked to imbue other nonprofit groups with the hallmarks of true leadership: openness to innovation, willingness to share responsibility, and respect for diversity. With skill and sensitivity, Frances Hesselbein has shown us how to summon the best from ourselves and our fellow citizens.


An American who wanted only to be treated like every other American, Fred Korematsu challenged our Nation's conscience, reminding us that we must uphold the rights of our own citizens even as we fight tyranny in other lands. Defying the 1942 order for the internment of Japanese Americans, he stood strong against anti-Asian prejudice in the United States during World War II. Convicted of violating the order, he waited more than 40 years for justice, when a Federal court overturned the judgment that the Supreme Court first upheld against him. A man of quiet bravery, Fred Korematsu deserves our respect and thanks for his patient pursuit to preserve the civil liberties we hold dear.


Even as he has succeeded in law and business, Sol Linowitz has never forgotten the needs of others. Involved early in local community service, he later broadened his activities to promote the goals of international understanding and job creation in developing countries. As co-founder of the International Executive Service Corps, he inspired retired American executives to share their expertise with emerging nations to help foster economic growth. In a series of high-level diplomatic assignments, he made lasting contributions to the pursuit of world peace. With a keen mind, a warm heart, and a generous spirit, Sol Linowitz has enriched the lives of millions around the world.


Wilma Mankiller prevailed over childhood poverty, relocation, and other personal adversity to become a strong and creative leader of the Cherokee Nation. Compelled by the problems endured by her tribe, she returned home to Oklahoma to devote her skills and energy to make life better for her people. The success of her innovative community projects underscored the effectiveness of her message of self-esteem and self-reliance and ultimately led to her election as the first female chief of a Native American tribe. Our Nation pays tribute to Wilma Mankiller, who has made it her mission to bring opportunity, a higher standard of living, improved health care, and quality education to Native Americans.


We owe much to the life's work of Mardy Murie, a pioneer of the environmental movement, who, with her husband, Olaus, helped set the course of American conservation more than 70 years ago. Her passionate support for and compelling testimony on behalf of the Alaska Lands Act helped to ensure the legislation's passage and the protection of some of our most pristine lands. A member of the governing council of The Wilderness Society, she also founded the Teton Science School to teach students of all ages the value of ecology. For her steadfast and inspiring efforts to safeguard America's wilderness for future generations, we honor Mardy Murie.


A veteran of the Korean Conflict, Mario Obledo returned home to face another kind of struggle: the struggle of Hispanic Americans to achieve their rightful place as full members of our society. As national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a guiding force in the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, co-founder of the National Hispanic Bar Association, and as chairman of the Rainbow Coalition, he has worked to benefit those who historically have been denied access to political, economic, and educational opportunities. Uniting the voices of diverse ethnic, racial, and religious groups, Mario Obledo has created a powerful chorus for justice and equality.


A man of principle and integrity, Elliot Richardson epitomizes distinguished public service. In a public career spanning more than five decades, he has served in more United States cabinet positions -- as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare; Secretary of Defense; Attorney General; and Secretary of Commerce -- than any other person in our Nation's history. At HEW, he was a strong advocate for welfare reform and for racial integration in America's schools. As Attorney General, at a time of crisis in our national life, he acted with extraordinary courage and conviction, keeping faith with the American people. A true patriot, Elliot Richardson has earned our lasting gratitude for maintaining the highest standards of service to our Nation.


Through his extensive humanitarian efforts to promote world peace, David Rockefeller has worked to improve lives both at home and abroad. Building on his family's tradition of charitable giving, he has generously supported a wide range of educational, cultural, health, and urban renewal programs. As co-founder of the International Executive Service Corps, he has recognized the duty and responsibility of the private sector to a world in need. His creation of and support for the Trilateral Commission has provided a unique forum for communication and problem solving by world leaders. Philanthropist, businessman, community servant, and exemplary global citizen, David Rockefeller has earned our enduring respect and heartfelt thanks.


Albert Shanker was an impassioned and forthright champion of public education in America. Rising from substitute math teacher to the presidency of the American Federation of Teachers, he fought and won important battles for teachers' rights and waged a prolonged crusade for rigorous educational standards for students and certification for teachers. The son of Russian immigrants, he realized that democracy works best when we give all of our children a chance to live up to their potential, and he devoted a lifetime of service to making our public education system fulfill its promise. Al Shanker's foresight and determination provided the foundation upon which we can build toward a brighter future for our Nation's children.


In both wartime and peacetime, Elmo Zumwalt has exemplified the ideal of service to our Nation. A distinguished veteran of World War II and Korea, he served as Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Vietnam and rose to become the Navy's youngest Chief of Naval Operations in 1970. As CNO, he worked vigorously to improve our sailors' quality of life and devoted himself to eliminating discrimination in the Navy. In a life touched by tragedy, he became a great champion of veterans afflicted by ailments related to service in Vietnam. For his dedication, valor, and compassion, we salute Bud Zumwalt.

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