School Integration Pioneer Wins Medal Of Freedom
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
A famous writer, a basketball star, a former president, last night they all received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. There was also a less familiar honoree.
BARACK OBAMA: For Sylvia Mendez, a lifelong quest for equality began when she was just eight years old.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
In 1947, Sylvia Mendez was one of the first Mexican-Americans to integrate the California schools. That's after a federal court ruled that schools could not be segregated on the basis of national origin. The case was called Mendez versus Westminster.
NORRIS: On NPR last year, for the project StoryCorps, Sylvia Mendez talked about what it was like to integrate a school.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)
SYLVIA MENDEZ: This little white boy comes up, and he says: What are you doing here? You don't belong in this school. They shouldn't have Mexicans here. And I started crying because I've always been that way.
NORRIS: I don't want to be in that school. And she says: Don't you realize that this is what we fought for? Of course, you're going to stay in that school and prove that you're just as good as he is.
BLOCK: That's civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez, one of 15 honorees who received the President Medal of Freedom yesterday.
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