On Wednesday, November 19th President Obama announced Sylvia Mendez will be one of fifteen people to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Mendez will receive this honor for her ongoing efforts to share her family’s role in the landmark Mendez v. Westminster case which advanced the cause of civil rights.
“These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place,” said President Obama. “I look forward to awarding them this honor next year.”
In 1947 Mendez’s parents challenged the practice of school segregation in California. The Mendez couple, joined by the families of Ramirez, Palomino, Estrada and Guzman, filed a lawsuit against the Westminster, Garden Grove, Santa Ana and El Modena (in Orange) school districts on behalf of 5,000 children who had been excluded from attending white-only schools. The Mendez v. Westminster case made California the first state in the nation to end school segregation, paving the way for Brown v. Board of Education.
Today, the Mendez family archives are housed in the Leatherby Libraries and the CES’s own Sandra Robbie won an Emmy for her documentary Para Todos Los Ninos, which chronicled the Mendez v. Westminster case.
Mendez and the other Medal of Freedom recipients will be presented with the award in February at the White House.