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Obama Awards Presidential Medal Of Freedom To 18 People

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Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A dancer, a golfer and three slain civil rights activists are among the winners of this year's Presidential Medal of Freedom. The medal is the nation's highest civilian honor and President Obama awarded 18 of them at the White House this afternoon.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama calls the Medal of Freedom Awards one of his favorite events of the year, a chance to honor those who've made America stronger, wiser and more humane.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIR DUKE")

STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) Music is a world within itself with a language we all understand, with an equal opportunity for all to sing, dance and clap their hands.

HORSLEY: Stevie Wonder, one of this year's medal recipients, helped provide the soundtrack for the president's campaign, but Obama was a fan long before that. He says Wonder's "Talking Book" was the first album he ever bought when he was 10 or 11 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: ...With my own cash. I didn't have a lot of it and I listened to that thing - that thing got so worn out, had all scratches - young people, you won't remember this but you'd have albums and they'd get scratched.

HORSLEY: The president scratched some history with this year's medals, recognizing pioneers like Edward Roybal, the founder of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Charles Sifford who broke the color line in professional golf and a 12-term Congresswoman from Hawaii who championed women's equality in sports through Title IX.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: Every girl in Little League, every woman playing college sports and every parent, including Michelle and myself, who watches their daughter on a field or in the classroom, is forever grateful to the late Patsy Takemoto Mink.

HORSLEY: Not all the trailblazers lived to see the changes they helped make. Fifty years after Freedom Summer, Obama presented posthumous medals to three young men - James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered in Mississippi while trying to register black voters in 1964.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: And while they're often remembered for how they died, we honor them today for how they lived - with the idealism and the courage of youth.

HORSLEY: Journalist Tom Brokaw received the medal for chronicling history on television and in books. Obama highlighted the anchorman's on-scene reports from countless big events like this one during Tiananmen Square.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM BROKAW: Well, it is now the middle of the night in China. It is very early on a Tuesday morning in Beijing and it's fair to say that the capital city is still up for grabs. The army is controlling a portion of it but the people prevail in many of the neighborhoods.

HORSLEY: And one of the most decorated actresses in America, Meryl Streep, can now add a Medal of Freedom to her cupboard of Academy Awards.(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: The Onion once ran this headline, "Court Rules Meryl Streep Unable To Be Tried By Jury, As She Has No Peers."

(LAUGHTER)

HORSLEY: Streep's latest project is a movie version of the Stephen Sondheim musical "Into The Woods." Sondheim himself was also set to receive a Medal of Freedom today but had to bow out. Obama says the composer will be honored next year.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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