Home » Inside Biden’s Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony honoring Black luminaries, including the ‘grandmother of Juneteenth’

Inside Biden’s Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony honoring Black luminaries, including the ‘grandmother of Juneteenth’

by The Grio

The “Grandmother of Juneteenth” and the man who contributed to parts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden at the White House on Friday.

They were among 19 people, including current and former elected officials, to be given the highest civilian honor.

Known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” for her decades of work pushing for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday, Opal Lee is a 97-year-old retired Texas educator. After the ceremony, Lee said she didn’t “know how to express” what it felt like to “be in the room with all these people who have achieved so much.” Among the honorees were Oscar-winning actress Michelle Yeoh, TV journalism icon Phil Donahue, former New York City mayor and businessman Michael Bloomberg and Olympic gold medalist Kathleen Genevieve Ledecky.

“Getting Juneteenth as a national holiday has been something that so many of us have wanted for so long,” Lee said. “There’s so much more to do.”

In a packed East Room, Biden called the class of recipients “incredible people” whose “relentless curiosity and inventiveness, ingenuity and hope have kept faith and a better tomorrow.” 

Other recipients included Black luminaries like Clarence B. Jones, who served as King’s lawyer and helped draft the original “I Have a Dream” speech, and the late civil rights activist Medgar Evers.

Evers’ award was posthumously accepted by his daughter Reena Evers-Everette.

Biden praised Evers as a “patriot who was gunned down by the poison of white supremacy” whose “spirit endures.” He lauded Jones for “wield[ing] a pen as a sword and gave words to a movement that generated freedom for millions of people.”

Close allies of Biden also received the honor, including former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker and current Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; former Vice President Al Gore; former Secretary of State…

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