The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the President of the United States and is—along with the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest civilian award of the United States. It recognizes those people who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors". The award is not limited to U.S. citizens and, while it is a civilian award, it can also be awarded to military personnel and worn on the uniform.
|Presidential Medal of Freedom|
|Awarded by the President of the United States of America|
|Awarded for||"An especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."|
|Unknown; an average of fewer than 11 per year since 1993|
|Equivalent||Congressional Gold Medal|
|Next (lower)||Presidential Citizens Medal|
Service ribbon of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
(left: Medal with Distinction)
Similar in name to the Medal of Freedom, but much closer in meaning and precedence to the Medal for Merit, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is currently the supreme civilian decoration in precedence in the United States, whereas the Medal of Freedom was inferior in precedence to the Medal for Merit; the Medal of Freedom was awarded by any of three Cabinet secretaries, whereas the Medal for Merit was awarded by the president, as is the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
President John F. Kennedy established the current decoration in 1963 through Executive Order 11085, with unique and distinctive insignia, vastly expanded purpose, and far higher prestige. It was the first U.S. civilian neck decoration and, in the grade of Awarded With Distinction, is the only U.S. sash and star decoration (the Chief Commander degree of the Legion of Merit—which may only be awarded to foreign heads of state—is a star decoration, but without a sash). The Executive Order calls for the medal to be awarded annually on or around July 4, and at other convenient times as chosen by the president, but it has not been awarded every year (e.g., 2001, 2010). Recipients are selected by the president, either on the president's own initiative or based on recommendations. The order establishing the medal also expanded the size and the responsibilities of the Distinguished Civilian Service Awards Board so it could serve as a major source of such recommendations.
The medal may be awarded to an individual more than once; Colin Powell received two awards, his second being With Distinction; Ellsworth Bunker received both of his awards With Distinction. It may also be awarded posthumously; examples (in chronological order) include John F. Kennedy, Pope John XXIII, Lyndon Johnson, Paul "Bear" Bryant, Thurgood Marshall, Cesar Chavez, Roberto Clemente, Jack Kemp, Harvey Milk, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Elouise Cobell, Grace Hopper, Antonin Scalia, Elvis Presley and Babe Ruth. (Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, civil rights workers murdered in 1964, were awarded their medals in 2014, 50 years later.)
The badge of the Presidential Medal of Freedom is in the form of a golden star with white enamel, with a red enamel pentagon behind it; the central disc bears thirteen gold stars on a blue enamel background (taken from the Great Seal of the United States) within a golden ring. Golden North American bald eagles with spread wings stand between the points of the star. It is worn around the neck on a blue ribbon with white edge stripes.
A special rarely given grade of the medal, known as the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction, has a larger execution of the same medal design worn as a star on the left chest along with a sash over the right shoulder (similar to how the insignia of a Grand Cross is worn), with its rosette (blue with white edge, bearing the central disc of the medal at its center) resting on the left hip. When the medal With Distinction is awarded, the star may be presented descending from a neck ribbon and can be identified by its larger size than the standard medal (compare size of medals in pictures below).
Both medals may also be worn in miniature form on a ribbon on the left chest, with a silver North American bald eagle with spread wings on the ribbon, or a golden North American bald eagle for a medal awarded With Distinction. In addition, the medal is accompanied by a service ribbon for wear on military service uniform, a miniature medal pendant for wear on mess dress or civilian formal wear, and a lapel badge for wear on civilian clothes (all shown in the accompanying photograph of the full presentation set).
In recognition of your legacy and service, of your courage and accomplishment, today, General Powell, I was honored to present you with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with distinction. I want to tell all those here in attendance that this was the second Medal of Freedom you have received, the first from President Bush in 1991. And today, you became only the second American citizen in the history of the Republic to be the recipient of two Medals of Freedom.
There are two degrees of the Medal, the higher being the Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction.
Anne Legendre Armstrong (December 27, 1927 – July 30, 2008) was a United States diplomat and politician. She was the first woman to serve as Counselor to the President and as United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom; serving in those capacities under the Ford, Nixon, and Carter administrations. She was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987.Arnold Aronson
Arnold Aronson (March 11, 1911 – February 17, 1998) was a founder of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and served as its executive secretary from 1950 to 1980. In 1941 he worked with A. Philip Randolph to pressure President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802, opening jobs in the federal bureaucracy and in the defense industries to minorities. A close associate of Randolph and Roy Wilkins, Aronson played an important role planning the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.Arturo Sandoval
Arturo Sandoval (born November 6, 1949) is a Cuban American jazz trumpeter, pianist and composer.
Sandoval, while living in his native Cuba, was influenced by jazz musicians Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, and Dizzy Gillespie, finally meeting Gillespie later in 1977. Gillespie became a mentor and colleague, playing with Sandoval in concerts in Europe and Cuba and later featuring him in the United Nations Orchestra. Sandoval defected while touring with Gillespie in 1990, and he became a naturalized citizen in 1998.
His life was the subject of the film For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story (2000), starring Andy García. Sandoval has won ten Grammy Awards and been nominated nineteen times; he has also received six Billboard Awards and one Emmy Award. Additionally, Sandoval has performed in a Super Bowl Halftime Show (1995), in an Orange Bowl (2009) at the White House, and at the University of Notre Dame.On August 8, 2013, former President Barack Obama announced that Sandoval would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.Barbara Jordan
Barbara Charline Jordan (February 21, 1936 – January 17, 1996) was an American lawyer, educator and politician who was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. A Democrat, she was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, the first Southern African-American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. She was best known for her eloquent opening statement at the House Judiciary Committee hearings during the impeachment process against Richard Nixon, and as the first African-American as well as the first woman to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous other honors. She was a member of the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors from 1978 to 1980. She was the first African-American woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery.Jordan's work as chair of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which recommended reducing legal immigration by about one-third, is frequently cited by American immigration restrictionists.Chita Rivera
Chita Rivera (born January 23, 1933) is an American actress, dancer, and singer best known for her roles in musical theatre. She is the first Hispanic woman and the first Latino American to receive a Kennedy Center Honors award (December 2002). She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.Dumas Malone
Dumas Malone (January 10, 1892 – December 27, 1986) was an American historian, biographer, and editor noted for his six-volume biography on Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson and His Time, for which he received the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for history. In 1983 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.Ethel Kennedy
Ethel Skakel Kennedy (born April 11, 1928) is an American human-rights campaigner and widow of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
Kennedy is the third of four daughters and sixth child of George and Ann Brannack Skakel, and was a classmate of her future sister-in-law Jean Kennedy Smith at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart. Kennedy is one of two surviving Skakel siblings and the longest lived. She and her husband married in 1950 and had eleven children. Their house, Hickory Hill in McLean, Virginia, was the scene of exclusive parties.
Shortly after her husband's death, she founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, a nonprofit charity working to realize RFK's dream of a just and peaceful world. In 2009, Ethel Kennedy was among the chief mourners at the funeral of her brother-in-law Ted Kennedy. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.George Low
George Michael Low (born George Wilhelm Low; June 10, 1926 – July 17, 1984) was a NASA administrator and 14th President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.Gilbert Melville Grosvenor
Gilbert Melville Grosvenor (born May 5, 1931) he is the former president and chairman of the National Geographic Society after having served as the editor of National Geographic Magazine. In 2011, he retired after 23 years as Chairman of the Society.Grosvenor has received 14 honorary doctorates and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 for his leadership in geography education. "As the world grows smaller and more interdependent daily, our country's future absolutely depends on our ability to see the connections between ourselves and our global neighbors," Grosvenor told an interviewer recently.Jean Kennedy Smith
Jean Ann Kennedy Smith (born February 20, 1928) is an American diplomat who served as United States Ambassador to Ireland from 1993 to 1998. She is the eighth of nine children born to Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald, and is their longest-lived and last surviving child. Her siblings include President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Senator Ted Kennedy, and Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Smith is the founder of Very Special Arts (VSA), an internationally recognized non-profit dedicated to creating a society where people with disabilities can engage with the arts. In 2011, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama for her work with VSA and people with disabilities.
As Ambassador to Ireland, Smith was instrumental in the Northern Ireland peace process as President Bill Clinton's representative in Dublin. She was heavily criticized after advocating for the U.S. government to grant a visa to Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, although her family would claim this influenced the IRA declaring a ceasefire in 1994. Irish President Mary McAleese conferred honorary Irish citizenship on Smith in 1998 in recognition of her service to the country.John Franklin Enders
John Franklin Enders (February 10, 1897 – September 8, 1985) was an American biomedical scientist and Nobel Laureate. Enders has been called "The Father of Modern Vaccines."Katherine Johnson
Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson (born August 26, 1918) is an African-American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. manned spaceflights. During her 35-year career at NASA and its predecessor, she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped the space agency pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks.
Johnson's work included calculating trajectories, launch windows and emergency return paths for Project Mercury spaceflights, including those of astronauts Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first American in orbit, and rendezvous paths for the Apollo lunar lander and command module on flights to the Moon. Her calculations were also essential to the beginning of the Space Shuttle program, and she worked on plans for a mission to Mars. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson as a lead character in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.Lee H. Hamilton
Lee Herbert Hamilton (born April 20, 1931) is a former member of the United States House of Representatives and currently a member of the U.S. Homeland Security Advisory Council. A member of the Democratic Party, Hamilton represented the 9th congressional district of Indiana from 1965 to 1999. Following his departure from Congress he has served on a number of governmental advisory boards, most notably as the vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission.List of Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients
This is an alphabetized, partial list of recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, grouped by the aspect of life in which they are/were renowned. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded by the President of the United States "for especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors"; it is awarded to individuals selected by the President or recommended to him by the Distinguished Civilian Service Awards Board. The only exception to the rule for the sitting president choosing those to be honored, was that the first recipients were selected by President John F. Kennedy before his assassination, and formally awarded by his successor in office, Lyndon B. Johnson. President Barack Obama awarded 123 Medals, the most ever, followed by President Ronald Reagan with 102 Medal recipients.Two people, Ellsworth Bunker and Colin Powell, are two-time recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Colin Powell received his second award with Distinction, while Ellsworth Bunker was given both of his awards with Distinction.
This list does not include those awarded the similarly named but very distinct Medal of Freedom, an antecedent award issued prior to 1963.Mildred Dresselhaus
Mildred Dresselhaus (née Spiewak; November 11, 1930 – February 20, 2017), known as the "queen of carbon science", was the first female Institute Professor and professor emerita of physics and electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dresselhaus won numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Science, the Enrico Fermi Award and the Vannevar Bush Award.Patricia Wald
Patricia Ann McGowan Wald (September 16, 1928 – January 12, 2019) was an American judge who served as the Chief United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) and as a judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. She was the first woman to be appointed to the D.C. Circuit and the first to serve as Chief Judge of that court. She served as a member of the American Bar Association's International Criminal Court Project and on the Council of the American Law Institute.Rita Moreno
Rita Moreno (born December 11, 1931) is a Puerto Rican actress, dancer and singer. Her career has spanned over 70 years; among her notable acting work are supporting roles in the musical films The King and I and West Side Story, as well as a 1971–77 stint on the children's television series The Electric Company, and a supporting role on the 1997–2003 TV drama Oz.
Moreno is one of the few artists to have won all four major annual American entertainment awards: an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony. She is also one of 23 people who have achieved what is called the Triple Crown of Acting, with individual competitive Academy, Emmy and Tony awards for acting; she and Helen Hayes are the only two who have achieved both distinctions. She has won numerous other awards, including various lifetime achievement awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.Ruth Johnson Colvin
Ruth Johnson Colvin (born December 16, 1916) is the founder of the non-profit organization Literacy Volunteers of America, now called ProLiteracy Worldwide in Syracuse, New York, in 1962. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in December 2006. She turned 100 in December 2016.William B. Franke
William Birrell Franke (April 15, 1894 – June 30, 1979) was United States Secretary of the Navy from 1959 to 1961 under Dwight D. Eisenhower. Franke was born in Troy, New York and attended Pace College.
Franke was instrumental in developing and implementing new, modern technology for the United States Navy, including the use of nuclear-powered warships. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Financial Management and Comptroller) from 1954 to 1957.
He was awarded the Department of Defense's Distinguished Service Award and the Medal of Freedom for his work. He died in Vermont after complications from gall bladder surgery.