At the White House, President Barack Obama recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 16 luminary recipients. Along with the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is considered the highest civilian award in the United States. The award recognizes those individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, culture or other significant public or private endeavors.” Since its establishment by President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago, “more than 500 exceptional individuals from all corners of society” have been Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients.
Four African Americans counted among this year’s list or recipients: Bayard Rustin received the distinguished medal posthumously for his work in civil rights. Rustin is recognized for his leadership in social movements for civil rights, socialism, pacifism and non-violence. Rustin promoted and accomplished non-violent protest success alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a leader of the early 1947–1955 Civil Rights movement and helped initiate a 1947 Freedom Ride on interstate busing.
Eighty-two-year-old Ernie Banks is known to many as “Mr. Cub.” One of the greatest baseball players of all time, Banks played 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs. He played in 11 All-Star Games, hit more than 500 home runs, and became the first National League player to win Most Valuable Player honors in consecutive years.
Cordy Tindell or “C.T.” Vivian, is a distinguished minister, author, and organizer. A leader in the Civil Rights Movement and friend to King, he participated in Freedom Rides and sit-ins across our country. Vivian also helped to establish numerous civil rights organizations.
Oprah Gail Winfrey was honored as one of the world’s most successful broadcast journalists. Winfrey, 59, is an American media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. Winfrey is best known for her multi-award-winning talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show which was the highest-rated program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011. She has been ranked the richest African American of the 20th century and the greatest Black philanthropist in American history. She is currently North America’s only Black billionaire.
Again in 2013, President Obama has neglected to award a Presidential Medal of Freedom to 95-year-old Simeon Saunders Booker, Jr. A legendary journalist who chronicled “Black Life in America” for 65 years, “Mister Booker” is steeped in Black culture and race issues. Booker deserves recognition for the attentiveness he has provided Blacks over the years. Booker was born in Baltimore, Md. in 1918. The issue of paying honor to Booker for his work in a timely manner will require all of our efforts.
JET magazine continues as the No. 1 African-American newsweekly, even though it does not come out weekly anymore. The publication has been a staple in Black Americans’ homes and businesses since 1951, when it was founded by the late great entrepreneur John H. Johnson. Booker is a writer of stature in African-American literature. As Washington Bureau Chief for JET, Booker has a long and legendary history of recording movements for Civil Rights. In the 1950s, he covered many of the major events that affected the lives of Black Americans, such as the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School and administrations of 10 U.S. presidents. Booker made his mark in 1955 with coverage of Emmett Till’s murder and trial. Booker rode with the Congress on Racial Equality’s Freedom Riders in 1961. Booker is well regarded for the weekly “Ticker Tape” columns he penned that gave note to Blacks’ achievements.
The hordes of Black Americans who swept Obama into the Oval Office, twice, are asked to lobby the president on behalf of getting the Medal of Freedom to Booker in 2014. Let’s persuade Obama to show Booker similar support as have his peers. During Black Press Week 2007, Booker was honored with the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s News Maker of the Year Award. In 2013, Booker was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists’ Hall of Fame. He’s been honored by the National, and Capital, Press clubs as well.
William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.