The conservative radio host has a decades-long history of making racist, xenophobic, and sexist comments. In contrast, Parks, who received the award in 1996, was a key leader in the Civil Rights Movement.
She helped launch the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. He is one of America’s most notorious racists.
Their actions and words could not be more different, but Rosa Parks and Rush Limbaugh now have at least one thing in common: Limbaugh was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday, joining Parks in having received the highest honor the government can award a civilian.
The kicker? Limbaugh received the award on Feb. 4, Parks’ birthday. California and Missouri both recognize this date as Rosa Parks Day.
Calling Limbaugh “the greatest fighter and winner that you will ever meet,” President Donald Trump bestowed the award upon him during the annual State of the Union address. The 69-year-old received the honor a day after announcing he had been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer.
A hero to many conservatives, the popular talk radio host has a decades-long track record of making racist and sexist comments. He promoted the racist—and debunked—conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and played a joke song on his show in which he calls Obama a “magic negro” while simultaneously blaming Obama’s race for paralyzing the country.
Limbaugh has also made racist comments about basketball and football players, mocked the speech of China’s former president, and even questioned why Indigenous Americans would be upset about being ethnically cleansed since “they all have casinos.”
He has also repeatedly labeled women as feminazis, referred to then 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton as the “White House dog,” called former Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and prostitute” over her support of women’s access to contraception, and said “feminism “was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream.”
Parks, meanwhile, was a key organizer and leader of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, launching what would become the Montgomery Bus Boycott on Dec. 1, 1955, when she refused to move from the front of the bus to the back, which was designated for African Americans.
Parks’ bravery helped advance efforts to end racial segregation, but it came at great personal cost. She was thrown in jail, lost her job, and struggled to find steady employment for 10 years. Her struggle and courage were recognized in 1996, when then-President Clinton awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who boycotted the State of the Union, took to Instagram Live after Trump’s address to call out the president for putting Limbaugh, whom she called a “virulent racist,” on the same pedestal as Rosa Parks.
“The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an extraordinarily sacred award,” she said. We’re talking about putting someone on the same level as Rosa Parks, you know, for example in terms of their contributions to American progress.”
John F. Kennedy established the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 to celebrate Americans who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Since then, the award has been given to prominent Americans like Mother Teresa, Elie Wiesel, Maya Angelou, Frank Sinatra, Stephan Hawking, Muhammad Ali, and Betty Ford.
In awarding Limbaugh the Medal, Trump thanked him for his “decades of tireless devotion to our country.”
“In recognition of all that you have done for our nation, the millions of people a day that you speak to and that you inspire, and all of the incredible work that you have done for charity, I am proud to announce tonight that you will be receiving our country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Trump said.
Republicans applauded as First Lady Melania Trump hung the Medal around Limbaugh’s neck with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) later calling it “well-deserved.”
Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t the only Democrat who criticized Trump’s decision.
“I have deep sympathy for anyone facing a life-and-death health issue, and wish Mr. Limbaugh a speedy recovery, but one of the most discouraging things in last night’s speech was seeing the President award the Medal of Freedom to someone who has spent decades fomenting hatred,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT).
Parks passed away in 2005, so we’ll never know what she would think of Limbaugh’s award. But we know what she thought about racism.
“Racism is still with us,” Parks said in 1998. “But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome.
Parks would have turned 107 on Tuesday.
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