See Video of Sylvia Mendez Receiving Presidential Medal of Freedom From Obama

Last year, it was announced

Sylvia Mendez

would be among the recipients of the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Tuesday, President Barack Obama bestowed the nation's highest civilian honor to the 74-year-old Fullerton resident and other Medal of Freedom recipients.

See video of the White House ceremony after the jump . . .

At age 8, Mendez was at the center of Mendez, et al v. Westminster, et al, which did away with white-only and Mexican-only schools in the Westminster, Garden Grove, El Modeno (now part of Orange) and Santa Ana unified school districts. Of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage, Mendez grew up to become a tireless civil-rights activist.

She was in good company Tuesday. Among the other "exceptional individuals" who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom were former President George H.W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, author and poet Maya Angelou, financier Warren Buffett, and Boston Celtic great Bill Russell.

"These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds, and they've excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place," Obama said.

The Medal of Freedom is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the U.S., to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Mendez received the honor because, unlike the other families involved in Mendez, et al v. Westminster, et al--specifically, the Estrada, Ramirez, Guzman and Palomino families--she has lectured about it across the country for a good decade.

For a refresher, reread Gustavo Arellano's cover story on the case finally getting its historical due--but leaving members of some of those families miffed in the process--in "Separate But Unequal."


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