Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jordan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Yesterday, President Barack Obama presented 13 recipients with the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian (non-military) honor that can be bestowed on a person by a sitting American president.  Established in 1963, the Presidential Medal of Freedom replaced the Medal of Freedom established in 1945 by President Truman to honor civilian service during World War II.  The PMOF is not limited to U.S. citizens, and is open to military personnel as well as civilians and public servants.  A diverse group of 2012 medalists included folk singer Bob Dylan, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, author Toni Morrison (a one-time Texas Southern University professor), and retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, among others.

Jordan and President Clinton
 Jordan was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton on August 8, 1994.  Surrounded by sisters Bennie and Rose Mary and close friend Nancy Earl, Jordan’s co-recipients included Mexican American activist Cesar Chavez (posthumously), Sargent Shriver, and in a strange coincidence, civil rights activist and former National President of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority Dorothy Height—Height’s signature appears on Jordan’s Delta pledge certificate, dated 1953.

Jordan, the Clintons and
sisters Rose Mary (left)
 and Bennie
In another interesting coincidence, former Senator and astronaut John Glenn also received a Presidential Medal of Freedom yesterday—Glenn was one of two keynote speakers at the 1976 Democratic Convention, along with Jordan.  Jordan made one of her most famous speeches at this convention, hyping up the crowd so much that Jordan’s name was bandied about as a possible Vice Presidential running mate for Jimmy Carter (and Jordan actually secured one nomination as a presidential candidate at the convention).  Glenn, in contrast, gave a much more subdued speech that was not nearly as well received as Jordan’s had been—Glenn noted in his autobiography that “Jordan was a hard act to follow.” 

Jordan was buried with her Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996. 

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