LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Longtime Los Angeles-area Rep. Edward Roybal will be posthumously awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom today at the White House.
Roybal is one of 19 people who will receive the honor. The list also includes composer Stephen Sondheim, actresses Meryl Streep and Marlo Thomas, former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw and musician Stevie Wonder.
The medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, is awarded to people “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.”
Roybal, who died of pneumonia at age 89 on Oct. 24, 2005, represented the Los Angeles area for 30 years in Congress after serving 13 years on the Los Angeles City Council.
He founded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, received the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001 from President Bill Clinton for more than 50 years of “exemplary deeds of service for our nation,” and, in 2004, was recognized by the Mexican-American Political Association as a “Latino Legend of the 20th Century.”
Roybal was born Feb. 10, 1916, in Albuquerque, N.M. His family moved to the Boyle Heights area when he was 6. He graduated from Roosevelt High School and studied business at UCLA and law at Southwestern University, and served in U.S. Army during World War II.
Roybal made his first run for public office in 1947, when he lost a bid for the Los Angeles City Council. Following that election, he helped create the Community Service Organization and fought to eliminate discrimination in housing, employment and education. He ran for the council again in 1949 and won, beginning a 13-year tenure.
He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 6, 1962, becoming the first Latino from California to serve in Congress since the 1880s.
Roybal remained in Congress until 1992, when he decided not to seek re- election. That year, his daughter, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles, was elected.
“Our father was a consensus builder who labored quietly and effectively on issues important not only to the communities he represented but also to the entire nation,” said Roybal-Allard, who will accept the medal on her father’s behalf. “Americans are healthier and better educated thanks to his unceasing efforts.”
Other recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded today are:
— choreographer/dancer Alvin Ailey;
— author Isabel Allende;
— James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were killed while taking part in an effort to register black Mississippi voters in the “Freedom Summer” movement in 1964;
— physicist Mildred Dresselhaus;
— Rep. John Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in history;
— Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy;
— Native American writer/activist Suzan Harjo;
— former congressman and White House counsel Abner Mikva;
— former Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink of Hawaii;
— former pro golfer Charles Sifford; and
— economist Robert Solow.