SEATTLE, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Three civil rights workers, slain for their role in battling Jim Crow laws in Mississippi, were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Monday during a ceremony held at the White House.
The medal is the nation's highest civilian honor and is awarded to those "who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
In June of 1964, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner drove from Ohio to Mississippi to take part in a voter-registration drive called "Freedom Summer."
After visiting with the leader of a recently burned-down church outside Meridian, Mississippi, the three men were pulled over for speeding, fined, and told to leave to leave town. The men went missing. Their car was found three days later; a month later, so were their bullet-ridden bodies.
During a subsequent trial, it came out Ku Klux Klan members and local law enforcement conspired to murder the men.
"To dismiss the magnitude of this progress — to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed — that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years," the president said during a 2013 speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s march on Washington, mentioning the men by name.
"Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Martin Luther King Jr. — they did not die in vain. Their victory was great."
Today the presenter spoke of the three fallen activists contribution "toward our continued pursuit of a more perfect union."
Suzan Harjo, writer, activist, and advocate for improving the lives of Native Americans, was also recognized.
Among the others honored by Obama Monday, artist awardees including Meryl Streep, Stephen Sondheim, and Stevie Wonder.
Honorees for public service included NBC journalist Tom Brokaw, Ethel Kennedy, and the longest-serving member of Congress, retiring Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.
The White House released a full list of the recipients and their biographies.