By Jeremy Gerrard, Daily Local News, 11/21/13
The borough of West Chester was represented Wednesday at the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony, where borough native Bayard Rustin was one of 16 individuals honored this year.
West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta was invited to be a guest at the ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
“It was really amazing and unbelievably remarkable on so many levels,” Comitta said.
According to White House officials, the Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor, “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.”
White House officials said this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Executive Order signed by President John F. Kennedy establishing the medal. Since the inaugural class of 31 recipients, more than 500 individuals have been awarded the honor.
President Barack Obama read brief biographies of the recipients before any were awarded Wednesday. During this time, Comitta said the audience remained quiet to hear the bios, though some spontaneous applause erupted during the president’s remarks on Rustin.
“I thought that was very moving and touching,” Comitta said.
Other recipients of the honor were former president Bill Clinton; broadcaster Oprah Winfrey; former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee; former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar; women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem; baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks; Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman; country music singer Loretta Lynn; Nobel Prize laureate Maria Molina; jazz musician Arturo Sandoval; former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith; former U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge Patricia Wald; and civil rights leader and minister C.T. Vivian.
Former U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and astronaut Sally Ride were honored posthumously.
At the ceremony, Rustin was described as “a giant in the American Civil Rights movement. Openly gay at a time when many had to hide who they loved, his unwavering belief that we are all equal members of a single human family took him from his first freedom ride to the LGBT rights movement. Thanks to his unparalleled skills as an organizer, progress that once seemed impossible, appears in retrospect, to have been inevitable.”
Walter Nagle, Rustin’s partner, accepted the award on his behalf.
Comitta and Borough Council commemorated Rustin’s legacy and his posthumous reception of the medal in August. …
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