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Civil rights pioneer, Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery was honored today with the highest honor given to a civilian, the Medal of Freedom. Dr. Lowery is noted for his work alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and help with the Montgomery bus boycotts. He has become an iconic figure in the Black community and city of Atlanta where he was honored at the “International Civil Rights Walk of Fame” for his accomplishments. President Obama gave Dr. Lowery the award at a ceremony in Washington this afternoon. Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Sen. Ed Kennedy of Massachusetts and actor Sidney Poitier also received Medals of Freedom.

The apartheid activist, Archbishop Tutu has been regarded as South Africa’s “moral compass” and avid Obama supporter. When he heard President Obama won the election he said he wanted to “sing and dance.” He also chaired the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an organization to unveil and correct South Africa’s past wrongdoings.

Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy is noted for being the brother of President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy has been in the senate for 46 years, and an advocate for health care reform. He often calls it, “the cause of his life.” He’s been at the forefront of every healthcare bill enacted by congress in the last five decades. He is currently fighting brain cancer and coping with the recent death of his eldest sister, Eunice Kennedy Schriver. Sen. Kennedy did not attend today’s ceremony but his daughter, Kara Kennedy, attended on his behalf.

Sidney Poitier made history becoming the first African-American to win an Academy Award for best actor in 1963. He also broke down doors starring in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, the first movie to portray interracial marriage and interracial kissing. He was also the first African-American to be the top grossing movie star in the United States.

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