WASHINGTON — Music legend Bob Dylan and Nobel-winning writer Toni Morrison lead a list of 13 people who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian honor, the White House said Thursday.
“These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our nation,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
“They’ve challenged us, they’ve inspired us, and they’ve made the world a better place. I look forward to recognizing them with this award.”
Dylan has been a defining figure in folk and rock music for nearly half a century. Known for his poetic lyrics, his work “had considerable influence on the civil rights movement of the 1960s,” the statement said.
The world of arts and letters is represented with the selection of Morrison, a Pulitzer-winning novelist who became the first African-American woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1993, and whose most searing novels including “Beloved” have been made into films.
From the world of politics, the list of honorees includes former US secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the first woman to hold the position; and Israeli President Shimon Peres, a Nobel peace laureate.
Retired US Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens — one of the longest ever to serve on the highest US court — will also receive an award.
Other recipients of the prestigious award are:
— John Doar, a prominent civil rights attorney who played a key role in prosecuting the Watergate scandal that felled President Richard Nixon;
— William Foege, a physician and epidemiologist, who helped lead the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s.
— John Glenn, a retired US senator and former astronaut who was the third American in space, and later became the oldest to travel there at the age of 77.
— Gordon Hirabayashi, who “openly defied the forced relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II,” and took his challenge all the way to the US Supreme Court. He died in January and is to receive his award posthumously.
— Dolores Huerta, a tireless civil rights activist and labor organizer famous for her work with Mexican migrant workers in California.
— Jan Karski, a leading figure in the Polish Underground during World War II, who later became a US citizen and died in 2000.
— Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the iconic Girl Scouts group, which in its century-long existence has grown into the largest educational organization for girls and has had over 50 million members. She died in 1927.
— Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in all of college basketball with 1,098 wins who led the Lady Vols of the University of Tennessee to eight national championships. She has been vocal in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, and recently revealed that she has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.