Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, singers Barbra Streisand and James Taylor, baseball legend Willlie Mays and Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland were among 17 Americans awarded the Medal of Freedom Tuesday by President Obama at the White House.
“From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans,” Mr. Obama said.
Among the other recipients of the nation’s highest civilian honor in the East Room ceremony were composer Stephen Sondheim; violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman; NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson; singer Gloria Estefan and her husband, music producer Emilio Estefan; veterans advocate Bonnie Carroll; former Rep. Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the 9/11 commission; and former Environmental Protection Agency head William Ruckelshaus.
New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, who died in September at the age of 90, was awarded the medal posthumously, as were Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American elected to Congress, Indian rights advocate Billy Frank Jr. and Japanese-American civil rights activist Minoru Yasui.
The president called Ms. Mikulski, the longest-serving female lawmaker in U.S. history, “one of the finest public-service careers we’ve ever seen” and “a lioness fighting for working families.” First elected to the House in 1976, she is retiring at the end of her fifth Senate term in January.
Mr. Obama said Ms. Streisand was born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, and quipped to her with a smile, “I didn’t know you were Jewish, Barbara.”
During his tribute to Mr. Spielberg, a cellphone in the audience rang. Mr. Obama joked that someone was calling the filmmaker to pitch a movie idea about “this really good-looking president.”
The president said Mr. Mays was not only an All-Star baseball player, but also “helped to carry the banner of civil rights.”