Maya Angelou, Bill Russell Receive Presidential Medal of Honor

Poet and basketball legend among 15 honorees at White House ceremony.

Posted: 02/16/2011 12:37 PM EST
Maya Angelou & President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama honored poet Maya Angelou, basketball great Bill Russell, Congressman John Lewis, and 12 others with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a ceremony at the White House Tuesday.

The nation’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the U.S., to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. 

“These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place,” said the president.

The full list of awardees:

Congressman John Lewis
John Lewis is an American hero and a giant of the civil rights movement.

Maya Angelou
Dr. Maya Angelou is a prominent and celebrated author, poet, educator, producer, actress, filmmaker, and civil rights activist, who is currently the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.  

Bill Russell
Bill Russell is the former Boston Celtics captain who almost single-handedly redefined the game of basketball.

President George H. W. Bush
George Herbert Walker Bush was the 41st president of the United States.

Chancellor Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel is the chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.

John H. Adams
John H. Adams co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970.

Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett is an American investor, industrialist, and philanthropist.  He is one of the most successful investors in the world.

Jasper Johns
American artist Jasper Johns has produced a distinguished body of work dealing with themes of perception and identity since the mid-1950s.

Gerda Weissmann Klein
Gerda Weissmann Klein is a Jewish Holocaust survivor who has written several books about her experiences.

Dr. Tom Little (Posthumous)
Dr. Tom Little was an optometrist who was brutally murdered on August 6, 2010, by the Taliban in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan, Afghanistan, along with nine other members of a team returning from a humanitarian mission to provide vision care in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan. 

Yo-Yo Ma
Yo-Yo Ma is considered the world’s greatest living cellist, recognized as a prodigy since the age of five whose celebrity transcends the world of classical music.

Sylvia Mendez
Sylvia Mendez is a civil rights activist of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. 

Stan Musial
Stan “The Man” Musial is a baseball legend and Hall of Fame first baseman. Musial played 22 seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1941 to 1963.

Jean Kennedy Smith
In 1974, Jean Kennedy Smith founded VSA, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center that promotes the artistic talents of children, youth, and adults with disabilities.

John J. Sweeney
John J. Sweeney is the current president emeritus of the AFL-CIO and served as president of the AFL-CIO from 1995 to 2009.


Image:  Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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