November 17, 2023

Senator Warren, Representative Green, Lawmakers Urge President Biden to Present Presidential Medal of Freedom Posthumously to America’s Enslaved

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C.  – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Al Green (D-Texas) sent a letter to President Joe Biden, urging that he recognize the profound and enduring contributions of our nation’s enslaved with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. In the letter, the lawmakers emphasized the vital role the enslaved played in shaping the economic and social foundation of America. 

“We will never be able to undo our nation’s painful history of slavery, but there are steps we can take now toward recognition and reconciliation,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. “By awarding the nation’s highest civilian honor posthumously to enslaved Americans, we can honor those who played a fundamental role in building the economic and social foundation of our nation.”

“President Biden granting a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to the American enslaved would provide an adequate tribute to their enduring legacy,” said Representative Al Green. “Presidential recognition of the sacrifices of the American enslaved would be a historic moment of national redemption. Such acknowledgment is imperative for healing historical wounds, encouraging a renewed sense of justice, and declaring that the labor and sacrifices of enslaved persons were foundational to our nation’s prosperity.”

Our nation’s enslaved contributed unrelenting labor, undertook the arduous tasks of planting and harvesting crops, constructed critical roads and bridges, and provided the essential groundwork for vital industries in the early United States such as cotton and tobacco. Their collective efforts propelled the United States to the global economic dominance it enjoys today. 

Last year, President Biden marked the commemoration of Slavery Remembrance Day with a statement acknowledging the repercussions of slavery on our nation’s history. A Presidential Medal of Freedom would be a further, monumental recognition of the immense contributions of the American enslaved and a transformation in our historical narrative. This proposal seeks to redress past injustices and progress toward social justice and reconciliation. 

The letter was also signed by Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) as well as Representatives Alma Adams (D-N.C.), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), André Carson (D-Ind.), Troy Carter (D-La.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas), Danny Davis (D- Ill.), Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas), Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Valerie Foushee (D-N.C.), Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Glenn Ivey (D-Md.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Henry Johnson (D-Ga.), Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), Greg Landsman (D-Ohio), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Summer Lee (D-Pa.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), Jennifer McClellan (D-Va.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Kevin Mullin (D-Calif.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), David Scott (D-Ga.), Robert Scott (D-Va.), Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.), Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), Shri Thanedar (D-Mich.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), David Trone (D-Md.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), and Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.). 

Senator Warren has led efforts to reconcile with our past and confront America’s legacy of slavery and racism:

  • In May 2023, Senator Warren, along with 22 of her Senate colleagues, reintroduced a resolution recognizing the anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and honoring the lives and legacies of the nearly 300 Black individuals who were killed and the nearly 9,000 Black individuals who were left homeless and penniless as a result.
  • In July 2022, Senator Warren and Congressman Green reintroduced a joint resolution to designate August 20th as Slavery Remembrance Day. 
  • In July 2021, Senator Warren and Congressman Green introduced the Reconciliation in Place Names Act. Originally introduced last year with then-Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), this bill would address land units and geographic features with racist and bigoted names.
  • In March 2021, Senator Warren and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee unveiled a resolution to mark the forthcoming 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The resolution is a reminder that the fight to end racist violence against Black people in the United States – often state-sanctioned and at the hands of the police – continues.
  • In June 2020, Senator Warren spoke on the Senate floor about her bipartisan amendment in the annual defense bill to rename all bases and other military assets honoring the Confederacy.
  • In June 2020, Senator Warren and 35 Senate Democrats introduced standalone legislation requiring the Pentagon to remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America and anyone who voluntarily served it from all military bases and other assets of the Department of Defense. The Pentagon must rename the assets within one year.