Why the Presidential Medal of Freedom Matters

David Goodman with the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to Andy

President Barack Obama posthumously honored James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner as recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, on November 24th. At the Ceremony, President Obama remarked, “Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner — young men — these three men refused to sit on the sidelines. Although they are often remembered for how they died, we honor them today for how they lived – with the idealism and courage of youth.”

We asked our community: “What is the significance of the Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner Presidential Medal of Freedom?”

Robert Brandon, President of the Fair Elections Legal Network: The Presidential Medal of Freedom honors the work and sacrifice of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. The impact these men had on the Civil Rights movement sets them apart as examples of how young people can achieve change on a large scale. This award rightfully recognizes their unselfish actions that helped protect voting rights and equality for all Americans.

Nadia Osuwu, AGF Millennial Advisory Committee: The conferring of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner is an important reminder that we cannot take for granted the rights that these young men sacrificed their lives to secure. The Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner story should inspire all of us to reflect on how far we have come, and to look to what we can do to continue the work that they started to build a better, more just, world.

Austin Boral, AGF Millennial Advisory Committee: As a 20-year-old college student, the legacy of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner has definitively shaped the way in which I approach civic engagement. To pay tribute to three men who fought to preserve our fundamental freedoms by bringing their powerful narrative into a broader public consciousness is important — however, to ensure they did not die in vain by continuing to fight for the values they stood for is essential.

Jessica Lipnack, author and blogger at Endless Knots: How ironic that the Medal of Freedom was awarded to these brave patriots on the day the troubling Ferguson decision came back. As David Goodman said in remarking on the name (Edgar Killen) of the murderer of his brother, Andy, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, “You just can’t make this stuff up.” So many years later, we are still struggling with equality and fairness against a system sorely in need of reform. I honor the Goodmans, Chaneys, and Schwerners and am so happy that these fearless young men were finally honored in this way.

Michelle Freeman (via Facebook): It signifies that their deaths were not in vain. They made it possible for the Voting Rights Act to be passed in the 60s.

Melony McGant (via Facebook): James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner lives are a testament of Love and the best of America. Their violent deaths during Freedom Summer of 1964 propelled our nation to pass Civil Rights and Voting Rights Legislation. We must never forget the many brave citizens of all races who have stood/stand for justice, equality, equity voting rights and peace.

Joelle Gamble, National Director, Roosevelt Campus Network: The Presidential honor bestowed to such courageous heroes is especially significant to young leaders continuing the fight for justice and equality. The Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner legacy inspires new generations to rise up and fight for a better future.

Sarah Funes, AGF Vote Everywhere Ambassador, Berkeley University:  It means the recognition of public service and a commitment to civil rights. That these men were honorable and did what was right.

Evelyn Burnett, Co-Chair, AGF Millennial Advisory Committee: The Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner Presidential Medal of Freedom symbolizes the importance of freedom in our democracy. It is critical to recognize that these men did not loose their lives in vain and their legacy lives on through the important work of the AGF and other civil rights organizations today. There is still much more work to be done.

We, at The Andrew Goodman Foundation, are proud to continue the work of Andy, James and Mickey. As David Goodman, Andrew’s brother and President of the Foundation has stated, “This Medal belongs to all Americans. Andy Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner represent over 900 Freedom Summer workers who risked their lives for American values.” The Presidential Medal of Freedom is a great honor that acknowledges heroes, past and present. We hope this moment serves to not only highlight a courageous act but also inspire every individual to step forward and take action on the issues that matter.