Willie Mays and Billy Frank, Jr. Among Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients

By Sameer Rao Nov 17, 2015

Yesterday, six pioneers of color were announced as the latest recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor. 

The list of 17 recipients includes figures from the fields of music, politics, sports, public health and space travel. The following people of color are included among the recipients: 

– Willie Mays, the legendary baseball player who counts a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP award and a World Series win among his considerable achievements as one of Major League Baseball’s first black players. 

– Gloria and Emilio Estefan, the Cuban-born wife and husband team behind the world-renowned band Miami Sound Machine. Both musicians had prolific solo careers after the band’s demise in the late-1980s, mixing the music of Cuba with other genres and popularizing Spanish-language music around the world. 

– Billy Frank, Jr., a longtime Native American activist whose "fish-ins" during the ’60s and ’70s lead to the "Boldt Decision," which reaffirmed Native American tribes’ rights to fish in Washington’s Puget Sound and made him an international hero for indigenous peoples’ rights and environmental justice. Frank passed away last year at the age of 83.

– Minoru Yasui, a Japanese-American lawyer and activist who was held in solitary confinement for nine months after challenging the government’s racially-targeted military curfew during World War II. After the Supreme Court upheld the military curfew in 1943, Yasui spent decades fighting his wartime conviction. It was overturned by an Oregon state court in 1986, the same year that he died. His medal will be awarded posthmously. 

– Shirley Chisholm, an educator and seven-term Congresswoman who made history by when she became the first black Congresswoman in 1968 and co-founded what would become the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969. Chisholm ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972; she was the first black woman from a major party to do so. Chisholm passed away in 2005 at the age of 80.  

The medals will be presented at the White House on November 24. Click here for the full list of awardees.