Presidential Medal of Freedom – History, meaning, recipients, & facts

Presidential Medal of Freedom

In 1963, 35th U.S. President John F. Kennedy established our nation’s highest civilian honor: The Presidential Medal of Freedom. And since its establishment, the honor has been bestowed upon individuals that have excelled tremendously well in their chosen profession in a manner that brings benefits to the American people or to the world at large, say in the area of world peace and economic progress. What it means is that, the Medal of Freedom has been bestowed upon some non-Americans, including the likes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, anti-apartheid icons Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, and Mother Theresa.

Honorees of this prestigious award have come from diverse disciplines, including arts, music, public service, business, education, engineering, and medicine. Notable recipients include the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Muhammad Ali, Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Hawking, Maya Angelou, and Walt Disney.

How did the Presidential Medal of Freedom come to be? And how are the honorees selected? Below is a brief history of our nation’s highest civilian honor. The article also includes a complete list of all the recipients from 1963 to 2020.

History of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

The history of the Presidential Medal of Freedom began in 1963, when then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy used Executive Order 11085 to establish the award. The award became higher in precedence to the Medal for Merit. It was intended to be awarded annually on or around July 4 or other times chosen by the U.S. president. However, in some years, the award was not given; for example in the years 2001 and 2010.

By the executive order, the President of the United States is the one that selects the honorees; although he does so with recommendations from the Distinguished Civilian Service Awards Board.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom can be awarded to an individual more than once. For example, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell received the award on two occasions, in 1991 (from George H.W. Bush) and in 1993 (from President Bill Clinton).

The Presidential Medal of Freedom can also be posthumously awarded; notable posthumous honorees are Pope John XXIII, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, Elvis Presley, and Babe Ruth.

Presidential Medal of Freedom

Interesting facts about the Presidential Medal of Freedom

  • Our nation’s two highest civilian awards are the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
  • The awards are not confined to civilians (both American citizens and non-citizens); military men and women are eligible for the award as well.
  • Prior to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, there was the Medal of Freedom, which was established by Harry S. Truman in 1945. That award was presented to individuals that served in civilian capacity during the Second World War. The Medal of Freedom was outranked by the Medal of Merit.

Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

The total number of recipients of the award since its inception is a bit difficult to track; however, World History Edu has compiled a list of most of the honorees according to their nationality, the year of receipt, and the U.S. president that awarded the medal.

*with distinction

**posthumously awarded

Presidential Medal of Freedom Honorees during the Presidency John F. Kennedy

Honoree Year Profession Nationality
Marian Anderson 1963 Opera Singer American
Ralph Bunche * 1963 Political scientist American
Ellsworth Bunker* 1963 Businessman American
Pablo Casals 1963 Cellist and music composer Catalan
Genevieve Caulfield 1963 Teacher American
James B. Conant* 1963 Chemist American
John Franklin Enders 1963 Biomedical scientist American
Felix Frankfurter* 1963 Lawyer Austrian-American
Robert J. H. Kiphuth 1963 College sports coach American
Edwin H. Land 1963 Scientist and inventor American
Herbert H. Lehman 1963 Politician (45th Governor of New York) American
Robert A. Lovett* 1963 Politician and secretary of defense American
J. Clifford MacDonald 1963 Businessman American
John J. McCloy* 1963 Lawyer and diplomat American
George Meany 1963 Labor union leader American
Alexander Meiklejohn 1963 Philosopher English
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe 1963 Architect German-American
Jean Monnet* 1963 Entrepreneur French
Luis Muñoz Marín* 1963 Journalist and first elected governor of Puerto Rico Puerto Rican
Clarence B. Randall 1963 Lawyer American
Rudolf Serkin 1963 Pianist American
Edward Steichen 1963 Photographer and painter Luxembourgish American
George W. Taylor 1963 Professor American
Alan Tower Waterman 1963 Physicist American
Annie Dodge Wauneka 1963 Member of the Navajo Nation Council Navajo Nation
E. B. White 1963 Writer American
Thornton Wilder 1963 Novelist and playwright American
Edmund Wilson 1963 Writer American
Andrew Wyeth 1963 Visual artist American

Presidential Medal of Freedom Honorees during the Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson

A. Philip Randolph

President Lyndon B. Johnson presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to A. Philip Randolph, 1964

Honoree Year Profession Nationality
Karl Holton 1963 Probation officer American
John XXIII** 1963 Bishop of Rome/head of the Catholic Church
John F. Kennedy** 1963 American president and politician American
Ellsworth Bunker* 1963 Businessman American
Mark S. Watson 1963 Editor American
Dean Acheson* 1964 Statesman and lawyer American
Detlev Bronk 1964 Scientist American
Aaron Copland 1964 Composer American
Willem de Kooning 1964 Expressionist artist Dutch-American
Walt Disney 1964 Entrepreneur and film producer American
J. Frank Dobie 1964 Writer and newspaper columnist American
Lena Frances Edwards 1964 Physician American
T. S. Eliot 1964 Poet and playwright British
Lynn Fontanne 1964 Actress British
John W. Gardner 1964 Secretary of Health American
Theodore Hesburgh 1964 Reverend American
Clarence Johnson 1964 Aeronautical engineer American
Frederick Kappel 1964 Businessman American
Helen Keller 1964 Author and activist American
John L. Lewis 1964 Labor unionist American
Walter Lippmann 1964 Writer and poet American
Alfred Lunt 1964 Stage director and actor American
Ralph McGill 1964 Journalist American
Samuel Eliot Morison 1964 Historian American
Lewis Mumford 1964 Historian and philosopher American
Edward R. Murrow* 1964 War correspondent and journalist American
Reinhold Niebuhr 1964 Theologian and ethicist American
Leontyne Price 1964 Opera star American
A. Philip Randolph 1964 Labor unionist American
Carl Sandburg 1964 Poet and journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Swedish-American
John Steinbeck 1964 Author and Nobel Prize winner in literature American
Helen B. Taussig 1964 Cardiologist American
Carl Vinson 1964 Politician (U.S. House of Representative) American
Thomas Watson Jr. 1964 Businessman and philanthropist American
Paul Dudley White 1964 Cardiologist American
Robert Komer 1967 National security adviser American
Eugene M. Locke 1967 Lawyer and diplomat American
Robert McNamara 1968 Secretary of Defence American
James E. Webb 1968 Government official American
Clark Clifford* 1969 Lawyer American
Ralph Ellison 1969 Novelist American
Bob Hope 1969 Comedian and actor British-American
Gregory Peck 1969 Actor American
Dean Rusk 1969 U.S. Secretary of State American
Merriman Smith 1969 Reporter American
William S. White 1969 Journalist American
Roy Wilkins 1969 Civil rights activist American

Recipients of the Medal of Freedom from President Richard Nixon

Honoree Year Profession Nationality
Buzz Aldrin* 1969 Fighter pilot and engineer American
Neil Armstrong* 1969 Astronaut and aeronautical engineer American
Eugene R. Black Sr. 1969 President of the World Bank American
Michael Collins* 1969 Astronaut American
McGeorge Bundy 1969 National security advisor American
Michael DeBakey 1969 Surgeon Lebanese-American
David Dubinsky 1969 Labor unionist American
Duke Ellington 1969 Pianist American
Henry Ford II 1969 Businessman American
W. Averell Harriman* 1969 Politician and diplomat American
Edgar Kaiser 1969 Industrialist American
Mary Lasker 1969 Activist American
John Macy 1969 Government official American
Laurance Rockefeller 1969 Businessman American
Walt Whitman Rostow 1969 Economics professor American
Cyrus Vance 1969 Lawyer and Secretary of State under Jimmy Carter American
Whitney Young 1969 Civil rights activist American
Earl Charles Behrens 1970 Newspaper editor American
Fred Haise 1970 Astronaut and engineer American
William Henry 1970 Writer and reporter American
Arthur Krock 1970 Journalist American
David Lawrence 1970 Journalist American
G. Gould Lincoln 1970 Reporter American
Jim Lovell 1970 Astronaut and engineer American
Mission Operations Team 1970
Raymond Moley 1970 Economist American
Eugene Ormandy 1970 Violinist and conductor Hungarian-American
Adela Rogers St. Johns 1970 Journalist and screenwriter American
Jack Swigert 1970 Astronaut and aerospace engineer American
Manlio Brosio 1971 Diplomat and 4th Secretary General of NATO Italian
Samuel Goldwyn 1971 Film producer Polish-American
William J. Hopkins 1971 Civil servant American
John Paul Vann** 1972 Lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army American
Lila Acheson Wallace 1972 Publisher and philanthropist American
DeWitt Wallace 1972 Magazine publisher American
John Ford 1973 Film director American
William P. Rogers 1973 Politician and Attorney General under Dwight D. Eisenhower American
Charles Lowman 1974 Orthopedic surgeon American

 

Duke Ellington's Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Richard Nixon presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Duke Ellington, 1969

Presidential Medal of Freedom Honorees during the Presidency of Gerald Ford

Honoree Year Profession/job nationality
Paul G. Hoffman 1974 Business executive and statesman American
Melvin Laird 1974 Politician American
David K. E. Bruce* 1976 Diplomat American
Martha Graham* 1976 Dancer and choreographer American
Jesse Owens 1976 Track and field athlete American
Arthur Rubinstein* 1976 Pianist Polish-American
Iorwith Wilbur Abel 1977 Labor unionist American
John Bardeen 1977 Physicist American
Irving Berlin 1977 Music Composer American
Norman Borlaug 1977 Agronomist American
Omar Bradley 1977 Military officer American
Arleigh Burke 1977 Military officer American
Alexander Calder** 1977 Sculptor American
Bruce Catton 1977 Historian and journalist American
Joe DiMaggio 1977 Baseball player American
Ariel Durant 1977 Researcher American
Will Durant 1977 Writer and historian American
Arthur Fiedler 1977 Symphony conductor American
Henry Friendly 1977 Lawyer and jurist American
Lady Bird Johnson 1977 First Lady of the United States American
Henry Kissinger 1977 Secretary of State under Richard Nixon American
Archibald MacLeish 1977 Poet and writer American
James A. Michener 1977 Author American
Georgia O’Keeffe 1977 Artist American
Nelson Rockefeller 1977 Businessman American
Norman Rockwell 1977 Painter American
Donald Rumsfeld* 1977 Secretary of Defense of the U.S. American
Catherine Filene Shouse 1977 Researcher American
Lowell Thomas 1977 Writer and actor American
James Watson 1977 Biologist American

Presidential Medal of Freedom Honorees during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter

Honoree Year Profession/job Nationality
Martin Luther King Jr.** 1977 Civil rights activist American
Jonas Salk 1977 Medical researcher and virologist American
Arthur Goldberg 1978 Statesman and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court American
Margaret Mead** 1979 Cultural anthropologist American
Ansel Adams 1980 Photographer and environmentalist American
Horace M. Albright 1980 Conservationist American
Rachel Carson** 1980 Marine biologist and author American
Lucia Chase 1980 Dancer and actress American
Hubert Humphrey** 1980 Politician – 38th vice president of the United States American
Iakovos 1980 Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America
Lyndon B. Johnson** 1980 37th President of the United States American
Clarence Mitchell Jr. 1980 Civil rights activist American
Roger Tory Peterson 1980 Illustrator and ornithologist American
Hyman G. Rickover 1980 Admiral in the U.S. Navy American
Beverly Sills 1980 Operatic soprano American
Robert Penn Warren 1980 Novelist and poet American
John Wayne** 1980 Actor and filmmaker American
Eudora Welty 1980 Writer and photographer American
Tennessee Williams 1980 Playwright American
Roger Nash Baldwin 1981 1st Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union American
Walter Cronkite 1981 Broadcast journalist American
Kirk Douglas 1981 Actor and director American
Margaret McNamara 1981 Wife of Robert McNamara American
Esther Peterson 1981 Women’s rights advocate American
Gerard C. Smith 1981 Attorney American
Robert S. Strauss 1981 Diplomat and politician American
Elbert Tuttle 1981 U.S. Circuit Judge American
Andrew Young 1981 Diplomat and activist American

Recipients of the Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan

Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Reagan presents Roman Catholic nun Mother Teresa with the Medal of Freedom | Image (from left to right): Ronald Reagan, Mother Teresa, and Nancy Reagan

Recipient Year Profession Nationality
Eubie Blake 1981 Pianist and music composer American
Harold Brown 1981 Nuclear physicist American
Zbigniew Brzezinski 1981 Diplomat Polish-American
Warren Christopher 1981 Lawyer and diplomat American
Ella Grasso** 1981 Politician American
Bryce Harlow 1981 Government official American
Walter Judd 1981 Politician and physician American
Morris I. Leibman 1981 Attorney American
Karl Menninger 1981 Psychiatrist American
Edmund Sixtus Muskie 1981 Statesman and politician American
Charles Bates Thornton 1981 Business executive American
Earl Warren 1981 Politician and jurist American
Philip Habib 1982 Diplomat American
Eric Hoffer 1982 Philosopher American
Kathryn Elizabeth Smith 1982 Singer American
George Balanchine 1983 Ballet choreographer American
Ann Clare Boothe Luce 1983 Author and politician American
Paul Bear Bryant 1983 College football coach American
James Burnham 1983 Philosopher American
James Edward Cheek 1983 President of Howard University American
Buckminster Fuller 1983 Architect and author American
Billy Graham 1983 Evangelist American
Jacob Javits 1983 Politician American
Dumas Malone 1983 Historian American
Mabel Mercer 1983 Singer American
Simon Ramo 1983 Engineer and businessman American
Howard Baker 1984 Politician and diplomat American
James Cagney 1984 Actor and dancer American
Whittaker Chambers** 1984 Writer American
Leo Cherne 1984 Economist American
Terence Cooke** 1984 Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church American
Denton Cooley 1984 Heart surgeon American
Tennessee Ernie Ford 1984 Singer and TV host American
Hector Garcia 1984 Physician American
Andrew Jackson Goodpaster 1984 Army general American
Henry M. Jackson** 1984 Politician American
Lincoln Kirstein 1984 Writer and philanthropist American
Louis L’Amour 1984 Novelist American
Joseph Luns 1984 Politician Dutch
Norman Vincent Peale 1984 Author American
Jackie Robinson** 1984 Baseball player American
Carlos P. Romulo 1984 Diplomat and soldier American
Anwar el-Sadat** 1984 Egyptian politician Egyptian
Eunice Kennedy Shriver 1984 Philanthropist American
Count Basie** 1985 Jazz pianist and composer American
Albert Coady Wedemeyer 1985 Army commander American
Jacques Cousteau 1985 Naval officer and filmmaker French
Jerome H. Holland** 1985 Diplomat American
Sidney Hook 1985 Philosopher American
Jeane Duane Kirkpatrick 1985 Diplomat and political scientist American
George Low** 1985 NASA administrator American
Paul Nitze 1985 Politician American
Frank James Reynolds** 1985 Television journalist American
Frank Sinatra 1985 Singer and actor American
James Stewart 1985 Actor and singer American
Mother Teresa 1985 Roman Catholic nun and missionary Albanian
Juan Tery Trippe** 1985 Entrepreneur American
Albert James Wohlstetter 1985 Political scientist American
Roberta Wohlstetter 1985 Historian American
Chuck Yeager 1985 Air Force officer American
Walter Hubert Annenberg 1986 Businessman American
Earl Blaik 1986 Football player and coach American
Barry Goldwater 1986 Politician and businessman American
Helen Hayes MacArthur 1986 Actress American
Vladimir Horowitz 1986 Classical composer and pianist American
Matthew Ridgway 1986 Senior Army officer American
Joseph John Rochefort** 1986 Naval officer American
Vermont C. Royster 1986 Editor American
Albert Bruce Sabin 1986 Medical researcher American
An Wang 1986 Computer engineer American
Anne Armstrong 1987 Diplomat and politician American
Justin Whitlock Dart Sr.** 1987 Businessman American
Irving Kaufman 1987 Circuit Judge American
Danny Kaye 1987 Singer and actor American
Lyman Louis Lemnitzer 1987 Army general American
John A. McCone 1987 Businessman and politician American
Frederick Patterson 1987 Former president of Tuskegee University American
Mstislav Rostropovich 1987 Cellist and conductor Russian
William B. Walsh 1987 Physician American
Caspar Weinberger* 1987 Politician and businessman American
Meredith Reiniger Willson** 1987 Conductor and playwright American
Pearl Bailey 1988 Actress and singer American
Malcolm Baldrige Jr. ** 1988 Businessman and Secretary of Commerce American
Irving Brown 1988 Labor unionist American
Warren E. Burger 1988 Chief Justice of the Supreme Court American
Peter Carington 1988 Politician British
Edward DeBartolo 1988 Businessman American
Milton Friedman 1988 Economist and Nobel Prize winner in Economics American
Jean MacArthur 1988 Army general American
J. Willard Marriott ** 1988 Businessman American
David Packard 1988 Electrical engineer and co-founder of Hewlett-Packard American
Roger L. Stevens 1988 Arts administrator and executive American

 

Presidential Medal of Freedom Honorees during the Presidency of George H.W. Bush (1989-1993)

Honoree Year Profession Nationality
Lucille Ball** 1989 Actress and comedian American
C. Douglas Dillon 1989 Diplomat and politician American
Jimmy Doolittle 1989 Military general American
George F. Kennan 1989 Diplomat and historian American
Mike Mansfield 1989 Politician American
Claude Pepper 1989 Politician American
George Shultz 1989 Economist and politician American
Margaret Madeline Chase Smith 1989 Politician American
Lech Wałęsa 1989 Statesman Polish
Walker Hancock 1990 Sculptor and teacher American
James Baker 1991 Attorney American
William F. Buckley Jr. 1991 Author American
Dick Bruce Cheney 1991 Politician American
Luis A. Ferré 1991 Engineer and politician Puerto Rican
Betty Ford 1991 First Lady of the United States American
Hanna Holborn Gray 1991 Historian American
Friedrich Hayek 1991 Economist and philosopher British
Tip O’Neill 1991 Politician American
Javier Pérez de Cuéllar 1991 Diplomat and politician Peruvian
Colin Powell 1991 Politician and diplomat American
Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. 1991 Army general American
Brent Scowcroft 1991 U.S. Air Force officer American
Leon Sullivan 1991 Civil rights leader American
Margaret Thatcher 1991 Politician British
Russell E. Train 1991 Government official American
Vernon A. Walters 1991 Army officer and diplomat American
William Webster 1991 Attorney American
Ted Williams 1991 Baseball player American
David Brinkley 1992 Newscaster American
Johnny Carson 1992 Comedian and T.V. host American
Ella Fitzgerald 1992 Jazz singer American
Audrey Hepburn 1992 Actress and humanitarian British
Richard Petty 1992 Race driver American
Harry W. Shlaudeman 1992 Diplomat American
Isaac Stern 1992 Violinist American
John W. Vessey 1992 Army officer American
Sam Walton 1992 Businessman and entrepreneur American
Elie Wiesel 1992 Writer and professor American
I. M. Pei 1993 Architect American
Ronald Reagan* 1993 Politician American
Strom Thurmond 1993 Judge and politician American

Individuals that received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton (1993-2001)

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks receives the award from President Bill Clinton, 1996

Honoree Year Profession Nationality
Arthur Ashe** 1993 Tennis player American
William J. Brennan Jr. 1993 Associate Justice of the Supreme Court American
Marjory Stoneman Douglas 1993 Journalist and author American
J. William Fulbright 1993 Politician American
Thurgood Marshall** 1993 Associate Justice of the Supreme Court American
Colin Powell* 1993 Politician American
Joseph L. Rauh Jr. ** 1993 Civil rights lawyer American
Martha Raye 1993 Actress and singer American
John Minor Wisdom 1993 Politician American
Herbert L. Block 1994 Cartoonist American
Cesar Chavez** 1994 Labor unionist American
Arthur Sherwood Flemming 1994 Government official American
James P. Grant 1994 Diplomat American
Dorothy Height 1994 Civil rights activist American
Barbara Jordan 1994 Educator and lawyer American
Lane Kirkland 1994 Labor unionist American
Robert H. Michel 1994 Politician American
Sargent Shriver 1994 Diplomat and politician American
Peggy Sundelle Charren 1995 Activist American
William T. Coleman Jr. 1995 Attorney and judge American
John Hope Franklin 1995 Historian American
Joan Ganz Cooney 1995 Television producer American
A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. 1995 Author and civil rights activist American
Frank Minis Johnson 1995 U.S. Judge American
C. Everett Koop 1995 Surgeon American
Gaylord Nelson 1995 Politician American
Walter Philip Reuther ** 1995 Labor unionist and civil rights activist American
James Rouse 1995 Businessman American
Willie Velasquez ** 1995 Social activist American
Lew Wasserman 1995 Talent agent American
Joseph Louis Bernardin 1996 Archbishop of Cincinnati American
James Brady 1996 White House Press Secretary American
Millard Fuller 1996 Humanitarian American
David A. Hamburg 1996 Psychiatrist American
John H. Johnson 1996 Businessman and publisher American
Eugene Lang 1996 Philanthropist American
Jan Nowak-Jeziorański 1996 Journalist Polish
Antonia Pantoja 1996 Social worker and civil rights activist American
Rosa Parks 1996 Civil rights activist American
Ginetta Sagan 1996 Human rights activist American
Mo Udall 1996 Attorney American
Bob Dole 1997 Politician American
William Perry 1997 Mathematician American
John Shalikashvili 1997 Military commander American
Arnold Aronson 1998 Civil rights activist American
Brooke Astor 1998 Philanthropist and writer American
Robert Coles 1998 Author and child psychiatrist American
Justin Dart Jr. 1998 Activist American
James Farmer 1998 Civil rights activist American
Dante Fascell 1998 Politician American
Zachary Fisher 1998 Businessman American
Frances Hesselbein 1998 Writer and management consultant American
Fred Korematsu 1998 Civil rights activist American
Sol Linowitz 1998 Businessman and lawyer American
Wilma Mankiller 1998 Activist and social worker American
Margaret Murie 1998 Author and conservationist American
Mario G. Obledo 1998 Civil rights activist American
Elliot Richardson 1998 Lawyer American
David Rockefeller 1998 Banker American
Albert Shanker ** 1998 Educator and labor unionist American
Elmo Zumwalt 1998 U.S. Navy officer American
Lloyd Millard Bentsen 1999 Politician American
Edgar Bronfman Sr. 1999 Businessman American
Jimmy Carter 1999 Politician and 39th President of the United States American
Rosalynn Carter 1999 First Lady of the United States American
Evelyn Dubrow 1999 Labor lobbyist American
Isolina Ferré 1999 Religious sister Puerto Rico
Gerald Ford 1999 Politician and 38th president of the United States American
Oliver Hill 1999 Civil rights lawyer American
Max Kampelman 1999 Diplomat American
Helmut Kohl 1999 Statesman German
George J. Mitchell 1999 Lawyer and businessman American
Edgar Wayburn 1999 Environmentalist American
James E. Burke 2000 Business executive American
John Chafee** 2000 Politician American
Wesley Clark 2000 Army officer American
William J. Crowe 2000 Navy admiral American
Marian Wright Edelman 2000 Activists American
John Kenneth Galbraith 2000 Economist and diplomat American
George G. Higgins 2000 Labor activist American
Jesse Jackson 2000 Civil rights activist American
Mildred Jeffrey 2000 Political and social activist American
Mathilde Krim 2000 Medical researcher American
George McGovern 2000 Politician and historian American
Daniel Patrick Moynihan 2000 Politician and sociologist American
Cruz Reynoso 2000 Civil rights lawyer and jurist American
Aung San Suu Kyi 2000 Diplomat and politician Burmese
Gardner C. Taylor 2000 Baptist preacher American
Simon Wiesenthal 2000 Writer Austrian

Presidential Medal of Freedom Honorees during the Presidency of George W. Bush (2001-2009)

Muhammad Ali

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali recieves the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush on November 9, 2005 | Image (from left to right): Mrs. Lonnie Ali, Muhammad Ali, and President George W. Bush

Honoree Year Profession Nationality
Hank Aaron 2002 Baseball player American
Bill Cosby 2002 Actor, comedian and author American
Plácido Domingo 2002 Opera singer Spanish
Peter Drucker 2002 Management consultant, author and educator American
Katharine Graham ** 2002 Publisher American
Donald Henderson 2002 Medical doctor American
Irving Kristol 2002 Journalist American
Nelson Mandela 2002 Political leader South African
Gordon Moore 2002 Businessman and engineer American
Nancy Reagan 2002 First Lady of the United States American
Fred Rogers 2002 T.V. host and producer American
A. M. Rosenthal 2002 Journalist American
Robert Bartley 2003 Editor American
Jacques Barzun 2003 Historian American
Julia Child 2003 Author American
Roberto Clemente ** 2003 Baseball player Puerto Rican
Van Cliburn 2003 Pianist American
Václav Havel 2003 Writer and statesman Czech
Charlton Heston 2003 Actor and political activist American
George Robertson 2003 Politician British
Edward Teller 2003 Physicist American
Rex Dave Thomas ** 2003 Businessman and philanthropist American
Byron White ** 2003 Lawyer and football player American
James Q. Wilson 2003 Academic and political scientist American
John Wooden 2003 Basketball player American
Paul Bremer 2004 Diplomat American
Edward Brooke 2004 Politician American
Doris Day 2004 Actress and singer American
Tommy Franks 2004 Army general American
Vartan Gregorian 2004 Academic and educator American
Gilbert Melville Grosvenor 2004 Editor American
Gordon B. Hinckley 2004 Religious leader and author American
John Paul II * 2004 Roman Catholic Pope Polish
Estée Lauder 2004 businesswoman American
Rita Moreno 2004 Actress and dancer Puerto Rican
Arnold Palmer 2004 Golfer American
Arnall Patz 2004 Medical doctor and research professor American
Norman Podhoretz 2004 Writer American
George Tenet 2004 Professor and security expert American
Walter Bigelow Wriston 2004 Banker and business executive American
Muhammad Ali 2005 Boxer American
Carol Burnett 2005 Actress, singer and writer American
Vinton Gray Cerf 2005 Internet expert American
Robert Conquest 2005 Historian and poet British
Aretha Franklin 2005 Singer, songwriter and civil rights activist American
Alan Greenspan 2005 Economist American
Andy Griffith 2005 Comedian and actor American
Paul Harvey 2005 Radio broadcaster American
Bob Kahn 2005 Electrical engineer American
Sonny Montgomery 2005 Army officer American
Richard Myers 2005 Army general American
Jack Nicklaus 2005 Golfer American
Frank Robinson 2005 Baseball player American
Paul Rusesabagina 2005 Activist and humanitarian Rwandan
Ruth Johnson Colvin 2006 Educator American
Norman Christopher Francis 2006 Lawyer and educator American
Paul Johnson 2006 Journalist and author English
B.B. King 2006 Singer, songwriter and guitarist American
Joshua Lederberg 2006 Molecular biologist American
David Gaub McCullough 2006 Author and historian American
Norman Mineta 2006 Politician American
Buck O’Neil** 2006 Baseball player and manager American
William Lewis Safire 2006 Author and journalist American
Natan Sharansky 2006 Politician Israeli
Gary Becker 2007 Economist American
Óscar Elías Biscet 2007 Physician and human rights activist Cuban
Francis Collins 2007 Physician and geneticist American
Benjamin Hooks 2007 Civil rights leader American
Henry Hyde 2007 Politician American
Brian Patrick Lamb 2007 Journalist and business executive American
Nelle Harper Lee 2007 Novelist American
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 2007 Politician Liberian
Benjamin Solomon Carson 2008 Politician and neurosurgeon American
Anthony Fauci 2008 Physician and immunologist American
Tom Peter Lantos 2008 Politician American
Peter Pace 2008 Marine Corps general American
Donna Edna Shalala 2008 Politician American
Laurence Hirsch Silberman 2008 Lawyer and jurist American
Tony Blair 2009 Politician British
Ryan Clark Crocker 2009 Diplomat American
John Howard 2009 Politician Australian
Álvaro Uribe 2009 Politician Colombian

Individuals that received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama (2009-2017)

Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Barack Obama awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction to then-Vice President Joe Biden, 2017

Recipient Year Profession Nationality
Nancy Brinker 2009 Diplomat American
Joe Medicine Crow 2009 Chief and historian of the Crow Nation Indigenous American (Crow Nation)
Pedro José Greer 2009 Physician American
Stephen Hawking 2009 Theoretical physicist English
Jack Kemp ** 2009 Politician American
Ted Kennedy ** 2009 Politician American
Billie Jean King 2009 Tennis player American
Joseph Echols Lowery 2009 Methodist Church minister American
Harvey Bernard Milk 2009 Politician American
Sandra Day O’Connor 2009 Associate Justice of the Supreme Court American
Sidney Poitier 2009 Actor and film director American
Chita Rivera 2009 Actress and dancer American
Mary Therese Robinson 2009 Politician Irish
Janet Davison Rowley 2009 Human geneticist American
Desmond Tutu 2009 Anglican archbishop South African
Muhammad Yunus 2009 Social entrepreneur, banker and economist Bangladeshi
John H. Adams 2011 Activist and lawyer American
Maya Angelou 2011 Poet and civil rights activist American
Warren Buffett 2011 Investor and philanthropist American
George H. W. Bush 2011 41st President of the United States American
Robert Gates 2011 Intelligence analyst American
Jasper Johns 2011 Painter and printmaker American
John Lewis 2011 Statesman and civil rights activist American
Tom Little ** 2011 Optometrist American
Yo-Yo Ma 2011 Cellist American
Sylvia Mendez 2011 Civil rights activist American
Angela Merkel 2011 Politician German
Stan Musial 2011 Baseball player American
Bill Russell 2011 Basketball player American
Jean Kennedy Smith 2011 Diplomat and activist American
John J. Sweeney 2011 Labor leader American
Gerda Weissmann Klein 2011 Writer and human rights activist American
Madeleine Albright 2012 Politician and diplomat American
Bob Dylan 2012 Singer-songwriter and author American
William Foege 2012 Physician and epidemiologist American
John Glenn 2012 Engineer and astronaut American
Juliette Gordon Low ** 2012 Women’s activist American
Gordon Hirabayashi ** 2012 Sociologist American
Dolores Huerta 2012 Labor leader and civil rights activist American
Jan Karski ** 2012 Soldier and diplomat Polish
Toni Morrison 2012 Novelist and professor American
Shimon Peres 2012 Politician Israeli
John Paul Stevens 2012 Lawyer and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court American
Pat Summitt 2012 Basketball coach American
Patricia Wald 2012 Judge American
Ernie Banks 2013 Baseball player American
Ben Bradlee 2013 Journalist American
Bill Clinton 2013 42nd President of the United States American
John Doar 2013 Lawyer American
Daniel Inouye ** 2013 Politician American
Daniel Kahneman 2013 Economist and psychologist Israeli
Richard Lugar 2013 Politician American
Loretta Lynn 2013 Singer and songwriter American
Mario J. Molina 2013 Chemist Mexican
Sally Ride ** 2013 Astronaut and physicist American
Bayard Rustin ** 2013 Civil rights activist American
Arturo Sandoval 2013 Jazz pianist and trumpeter American
Dean Smith 2013 College basketball coach American
Gloria Steinem 2013 Journalist American
Cordy Tindell Vivian 2013 Author and minister American
Oprah Winfrey 2013 T.V. show host, actress, author and philanthropist American
Alvin Ailey ** 2014 Dancer American
Isabel Allende 2014 Writer Chilean
Thomas John Brokaw 2014 Journalist and author American
James Chaney ** 2014 Social worker American
John David Dingell 2014 Politician American
Mildred Dresselhaus 2014 Nanotechnologist American
Andrew Goodman ** 2014 Social worker American
Ethel Kennedy 2014 Human rights advocate American
Abner Joseph Mikva 2014 Politician American
Patsy Mink 2014 Attorney American
Edward Roybal ** 2014 Politician American
Michael Schwerner ** 2014 Social worker American
Suzan Shown Harjo 2014 Rights activist, poet and writer American
Charlie Sifford 2014 Golfer American
Robert Solow 2014 Economist American
Meryl Streep 2014 Actress American
Marlo Thomas 2014 Actress and author American
Stevie Wonder 2014 Singer and songwriter American
Steven Spielberg 2015 Film director and screenwriter American
Emilio Estefan 2015 Musician Cuban
Gloria Estefan 2015 Singer, songwriter American
Itzhak Perlman 2015 Violinist, music teacher American
Stephen Sondheim 2015 Composer and lyricist American
Barbra Streisand 2015 Singer, actress American
James Taylor 2015 Singer, songwriter American
Minoru Yasui ** 2015 Lawyer American
Billy Frank Jr. ** 2015 Environmentalist American
Shirley Chisholm  ** 2015 Educator, politician American
Lee H. Hamilton 2015 Politician, lawyer American
Barbara Mikulski 2015 Politician, social worker American
William Ruckelshaus 2015 Attorney American
Katherine Johnson 2015 Mathematician American
Yogi Berra ** 2015 Baseball player American
Bonnie Carroll 2015 Social worker American
Willie Mays 2015 Baseball player American
Frank Gehry 2016 Architect American
Richard Garwin 2016 Physicist American
Maya Lin 2016 Architect, sculptor American
Robert Redford 2016 Actor and director American
Robert De Niro 2016 Actor, film producer and director American
Tom Hanks 2016 Actor, producer American
Cicely Tyson 2016 Actress, model American
Diana Ross 2016 Singer, actress American
Bruce Springsteen 2016 Singer, songwriter American
Grace Hopper ** 2016 Computer scientist, Navy rear admiral American
Margaret Heafield Hamilton 2016 Computer scientist American
Eduardo J. Padrón 2016 Professor, economist, educator Cuban
Newton N. Minow 2016 Attorney American
Lorne Michaels 2016 Television producer Canadian
Ellen DeGeneres 2016 Actress, T.V. show host, writer, actress American
Bill Gates 2016 Software developer, philanthropist American
Melinda Gates 2016 Philanthropist American
Elouise Pepion Cobell ** 2016 Activist, rancher
Vin Scully 2016 Sportscaster American
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 2016 Basketball player American
Michael Jordan 2016 Basketball player American
Joe Biden* 2017 47th vice president of the United States American

Honorees during the Presidency of Donald Trump (2017-2021)

Tiger Woods

In 2019, President Donald Trump presented the award to golf legend Tiger Woods

Honoree Year Profession/job Nationality
Elvis Presley ** 2018 Singer, actor American
Alan Page 2018 Jurist and football player American
Antonin Scalia ** 2018 Associate Justice of the Supreme Court American
Miriam Adelson 2018 Philanthropist American
Orrin Hatch 2018 Politician and attorney American
Babe Ruth ** 2018 Baseball player American
Roger Staubach 2018 Football player American
Arthur Laffer 2019 Economist and author American
Edwin Meese 2019 Law professor, author, attorney American
Tiger Woods 2019 Golfer American
Bob Cousy 2019 Basketball player American
Jerry West 2019 Basketball player American
Mariano Rivera 2019 Baseball player American
Roger Penske 2019 Businessman American
Jack Keane 2020 Army general American
Rush Limbaugh 2020 Author, political commentator American
Jim Ryun 2020 Politician American
Lou Holtz 2020 Football player, coach American
Dan Gable 2020 Wrestler, coach American

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