November 24, 2014
By Staff and wire reports, PGATOUR.COM
- Charlie Sifford, wearing his Presidential Medal of Freedom, enjoys the ceremony Monday at the White House.
Eighteen civilians, including World Golf Hall of Famer Charlie Sifford, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday from President Barack Obama.
The 18 notables -- trailblazers in sports, arts, entertainment and politics -- gathered in the White House East Room and left even the president himself in awe. The medal is the highest honor a civilian can receive.
Obama said the ceremony is one of his favorite events because it celebrates “people who have made America stronger and wiser and more humane and more beautiful.”
Sifford, 92, was the only sports figure to receive the award Monday. He is often referred to as the "Jackie Robinson of golf" for his groundbreaking legacy in the sport. Sifford went on to become the first person of color to compete in PGA-sanctioned events following the demise of the "Caucasian-only" membership clause in 1961. Sifford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004 and was bestowed an Honorary Doctor of Law Degree by the University of St. Andrews in 2006.
According to PGA.com, Sifford was asked how earning this medal compared to playing for a major. Sifford clutched the ribbon and the golden star and said, "No major compares to this. Today was exciting. Great people to be around you. I loved it."
This latest national recognition on behalf of Sifford, spearheaded by the PGA of America, was a collaboration among golf's leading governing bodies, national diversity-focused organizations, government officials and sports figures. Among those involved in the effort were the PGA TOUR, United States Golf Association, World Golf Foundation, 64 Members of Congress and notable athletes that included Tiger Woods, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Russell and Jim Brown.
Sifford is the third golfer to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, following Arnold Palmer (2004) and Jack Nicklaus (2005).
Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, on June 2, 1922, Sifford's interest in golf began as a boy. As he made a living through caddying, he also had the opportunity to groom his golf skills. By age 13, he was shooting par golf. However, Sifford's advancement was limited because of race discrimination in the Jim Crow era. Even though Sifford made significant strides in his career, he continued to be a target of harassment and death threats prior to and following the abolishment of the "Caucasian-only" clause.
The loudest applause on Monday came when Obama gave posthumous medals to family members of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were slain in 1964 as they participated in a historic voter registration drive in Mississippi. Other posthumous awards were for choreographer Alvin Ailey and Reps. Patsy Mink of Hawaii and Edward Roybal of California, founder of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
There also was a sustained cheer for Michigan Democratic Rep. John Dingell, who is retiring at the end of this year after serving the longest tenure in congressional history, after he mustered the strength to stand and receive his medal.
Besides Sifford, others who received the award were: musician Steve Wonder; actress Meryl Streep; NBC journalist Tom Brokaw; author Isabel Allende; Native American activist Suzan Harjo; actress Marlo Thomas; economist Robert Solow; former Rep. Abner Mikva of Illinois; physicist Mildred Dresselhaus; and Ethel Kennedy, wife of Robert Kennedy.
Composer Stephen Sondheim was scheduled to receive the award, but Obama said he couldn’t make it and will be included in next year’s class of honorees.
Charlie Sifford receives Presidential Medal of Freedom