Author Harper Lee and NAACP pioneer Benjamin Hooks yesterday received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, for their work for racial equality. Lee, 81, wrote the 1960 Pulitzer-winning classic To Kill a Mockingbird, which challenged racism and was made into a powerful movie featuring Gregory Peck. The book "influenced the character of our country for the better," said President Bush.
Hooks headed the NAACP for 15 years and was the first black criminal court judge in Tennessee. "He never tired of demanding that our nation live up to its ideals of liberty and equality," said Bush. Also among those honored were the first female president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and Cuban dissident Elias Biscet.