President Obama will present retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu with the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom next week.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award in the United States, and is presented to those who made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” according to a White House statement.
“Each [recipient] has been an agent of change,” Obama said. “Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way."
“Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive,” the U.S. president said.
In a statement issued by the White House, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town was praised for being “widely regarded as "South Africa’s moral conscience.’”
He had played a key role in his country’s anti-apartheid movement, and remains a strong voice advocating for different international human rights issues.
Tutu, while serving as the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his efforts in racial reconciliation and justice.
In addition to Tutu, Obama will present the award to 15 other people at the White House ceremony scheduled for Aug. 12.
Other recipients to be awarded the Medal of Freedom include Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), British physicist Stephen Hawking, tennis legend Billie Jean King, and civil rights activist the Rev. Joseph Lowery.
Gay rights activist Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in 1978, will receive a posthumous award.
The Medal of Freedom was established in 1945 by President Harry S. Truman to honor civilian service during World War II. It was reinstated by President John F. Kennedy. Usually, the medal is awarded annually near the Fourth of July, or when the President chooses to present it.