Author Toni Morrison, the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities Emeritus at Princeton University, has been named a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
Also a recipient is John Doar, Class of 1944, a public servant and leader of federal efforts to protect and enforce civil rights during the 1960s.
They are two of 13 people recognized with the prestigious award by U.S. President Barack Obama. The award is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented at the White House in late spring.
“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 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."
A celebrated novelist, Morrison is known for works such as Song of Solomon, Jazz, and Beloved, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988. When she became the first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1993, Morrison’s citation captured her as an author “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” She created the Princeton Atelier at Princeton University to convene artists and students.
According to Princeton University, Morrison joined the faculty in 1989 to teach literature and writing. She retired from Princeton in 2006 and continues to write today. She earned a bachelor's degree from Howard University and a master's degree in American literature from Cornell University. Before coming to Princeton, Morrison was senior editor at Random House and taught at Yale University, Bard College and Rutgers University.
John Doar served as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. He singlehandedly prevented a riot in Jackson, Miss., following the funeral of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evars in 1963. Doar brought notable civil rights cases, including obtaining convictions for the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Miss., and leading the effort to enforce the right to vote and implement the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Doar later served as Special Counsel to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary as it investigated the Watergate scandal and considered articles of impeachment against President Nixon. Doar continues to practice law at Doar Rieck Kaley & Mack in New York.
The other award winners of the National Medal of Freedom are:
- Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State
- Bob Dylan, Grammy award winning musician
- William Foege, physician and epidemiologist
- John Glenn, former senator and astronaut
- Gordon Hirabayashi, opposed forced relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during WW II.
- Dolores Huerta, civil rights, workers, and women’s advocate.
- Jan Karski, told one of first eyewitness accounts of Holocaust
- Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts in 1912
- Shimon Peres, president of Israel
- John Paul Stevens, former U.S. Supreme Court judge
- Pat Summitt, basketball coach, Alzheimer's spokeswoman
For more information on the award winners, click here.