RFK Center - Defending Human Rights In This World
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“You Don’t Mess With Ethel”: President Obama Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy


(Washington, D.C. | November 25, 2014) Ethel Kennedy, the wife of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and the founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom yesterday in a ceremony at the White House. Mrs. Kennedy was among 19 distinguished Americans to receive this year’s award, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

In his remarks honoring Mrs. Kennedy, President Barack Obama said: “We give thanks to a person whose love for her family is matched by her devotion to her nation. … As Bobby Kennedy’s partner in life, she shared his commitment to justice. After his death, she continued their work through the Center she created in his name, celebrating activists and journalists and educating people around the world about threats to human liberty.”

“You don’t mess with Ethel,” he added, drawing laughs from the East Room crowd.

Mrs. Kennedy has remained heavily involved in the work of the Robert F. Kennedy Center. In addition to her role on the board, she has she traveled to Florida to march with the Coalition of Imokalee Workers, a farmworkers’ rights group fighting to secure basic protections for the nation’s agricultural workers; gone to Mexico with her daughter, Kerry Kennedy, President of the RFK Center, to call for justice for Digna Ochoa, a human rights lawyer and nun murdered in 2001; and crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge with Congressman John Lewis to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march to Selma. She continues to host the Robert F. Kennedy Center Golf Tournament in Hyannis Port each year to support the RFK Center’s work.

In an interview recorded before the award ceremony, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Mrs. Kennedy what inspired her to continue working for social justice. “I think first, Bobby and his life,” Mrs. Kennedy said, “and of course Jack,” referring to her brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy, who created the Medal of Freedom during his time in office.


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