President Obama is scheduled to honour 19 individuals today with receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award available to civilians. Among this year’s recipients is Patsy Mink, the former representative from Hawaii who died in office in 2002, and was nonetheless so beloved by her constituency that she was re-elected by a wide margin.
Mink is an incredible Asian American icon, most notable for co-authoring Title IX, the landmark legislation that integrated college campuses and athletics for women. Mink is also notable for being the first Asian American woman elected to Congress, as well as the first Asian American to seek a presidential nomination when she ran in the Democratic primary in Oregon in 1972. Mink’s life story is told in the documentary Ahead of the Majority.
Mink served 12 years in Congress, as well as a year as the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International and Environmental Affairs. In addition to co-authoring Title IX, Mink also introduced the Early Childhood Education Act and the Women’s Educational Equity Act, two other landmark equal rights’ acts. In recognition for her profound impact on womens’ rights in this country, Title IX has since been renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.
In addition to Mink, Obama will honour several other notable Americans who championed civil rights in this country. Included among them are James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner; Goodman and Schwerner were student activists from Cornell University who along with Freedom Rider James Chaney were all killed in 1964 during the Freedom Summer as they traveled through Mississippi for a voter registration drive. Obama will also honour Native activist Suzan Harjo, and will post-humously give an award to Representative Edward Roybal of California, who founded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.