Presidential Medal of Freedom: Biden honours activists, astronauts and Olympians

President Joe Biden has bestowed the highest civilian honour in the US on activists, astronauts and Olympians at the White House.

Among the 19 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom was Jim Thorpe, the first Native American to win a gold medal. He died in 1953.

Mr Biden also recognised the most decorated female swimmer in history, Katie Ledecky.

Many of the recipients were Mr Biden's fellow Democrats.

They include two who ran for president: former Vice-President Al Gore and former Secretary of State John Kerry, who just stepped down as US special climate envoy.

Another, Nancy Pelosi, was the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House Representatives.

"History will remember you as the greatest Speaker," Mr Biden told her in brief remarks.

Business tycoon and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was also recognised.

Ellen Ochoa aboard Space Shuttle Discovery
Ellen Ochoa aboard Space Shuttle Discovery [Getty Images]

Other ground-breakers honoured included Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space, and Michelle Yeoh, the first Asian to win a Best Actress Oscar.

At Friday's ceremony, Mr Biden mistakenly referred to her as "Michael Yeoh" before quickly correcting himself.

Teresa Romero, the first Latina to become president of a national union, the United Farm Workers, was recognised.

So was Phil Donahue, the first television producer to include audience participation in a daytime talk show.

Thorpe throwing discus
Jim Thorpe won gold for Pentathlon and Decathlon in 1912 [Getty Images]

One of the activists receiving a medal was Opal Lee, who advocated for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the US. Mr Biden declared Juneteenth a national holiday during his first year in office.

The president also awarded medals to civil rights leaders Clarence B Jones, who helped write Dr Martin Luther King Jr's I Have a Dream speech, and Medgar Evers, who died in 1963, as well as Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, and Judy Shepard, anti-hate crime campaigner.

The medals are given to people who have made significant contributions to art, culture and US society.

One of this year's medals will go to Jane Rigby, chief scientist for the James Webb Telescope, the most powerful telescope in the world.