US PRESIDENT Barack Obama presented the Medal of Freedom to 19 activists yesterday.
The group receiving the country’s highest civilian honour included actor Meryl Streep and singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder.
Posthumous medals were awarded to six individuals, among them civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered in 1964 in Mississippi by the Ku Klux Klan.
However, the honour made their relatives uneasy.
They warned it could relegate the racial equality movement to history when it was still as relevant as ever.
“You know, the struggle in this country probably started with the first revolt on a slave ship and it continues now,” said Mr Schwerner’s widow Rita Bender.
And Mr Chaney’s sister, the Rev Julia Moss, said the award should be for all of those killed during the civil rights struggle.
“It’s really about all the families,” she said.
“It’s about the history of the pain of the African-American experience in Mississippi.”