White House Awards 2020 National Humanities Medals

National Humanities Medal
(January 14, 2021)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald J. Trump awarded the 2020 National Humanities Medal yesterday to three distinguished recipients at a private White House ceremony.  Awardees include the president of a think tank, a preserver of historic American battlefields, and a national history museum.

The National Humanities Medal honors an individual or organization whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the human experience, broadened citizens’ engagement with history and literature, or helped preserve or expand Americans’ access to cultural resources.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) manages the nominations process for the National Humanities Medal on behalf of the White House. Each year NEH invites nominations from individuals and organizations across the country. The National Council on the Humanities, NEH’s advisory body, reviews the nominations and makes recommendations to the NEH Chairman, who forwards his recommendations to the President, who selects the recipients.

“These medals honor an extraordinary museum that highlights the experiences, accomplishments, and sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, and two leaders who have enriched our society through their dedication to public policy and historic preservation,” said NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede. “I am proud to accept the award from President Trump on behalf of those recipients who could not attend the ceremony due to the pandemic.”

Following are the three recipients of the 2020 National Humanities Medal:

Kay Coles James, President of The Heritage Foundation

Kay Coles James is President of the Heritage Foundation, a prominent think tank in Washington, D.C. Her career in public policy began on the school board of Fairfax County, Virginia, and continued to the state board of education. Under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, James was appointed to the National Commission on Children. She served as associate director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and as assistant secretary for public affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the George H.W. Bush administration. Under President George W. Bush, she served as the director of the Office of Personnel Management. James has also worked at senior levels in education and the nonprofit world, as the chief operating officer of a national organization for mentoring programs and the dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University. She is the founder of the Gloucester Institute, which offers leadership training to African-American college students. James’s autobiography Never Forget describes her personal journey “from public housing to the corridors of power.”

James was recognized by the White House “for her intellectual leadership, devotion to our Constitutional principles, and steadfast commitment to opportunity for all.

O. James Lighthizer, American Battlefield Trust, President Emeritus

In a long and varied career with state and local government as well as with a preservation trust, O. James Lighthizer ensured that thousands of acres of Civil War battlefields remain accessible, in perpetuity, to the American people. Lighthizer honed his administrative skills first as a member of the Maryland General Assembly and then in Anne Arundel County. As county executive, he set aside farmland and established a waterfront park, saving from development 2,500 acres in the first instance and 900 acres along a seven-mile stretch of river in the second. After two terms, Lighthizer was appointed Maryland secretary of transportation in 1991, when he received national attention for an innovative program that saved more than 4,500 acres of the state’s Civil War battlefields. In 1999, he took the helm of the Civil War Preservation Trust, where he saved the Slaughter Pen Farm on the Fredericksburg Battlefield in Virginia.  

Lighthizer was recognized by the White House
for his decades of work protecting thousands of acres of Civil War battlefields for future generations. As a government official and then as the President of the Civil War Preservation Trust, James Lighthizer has devoted himself completely to preserving priceless historic sites so that all Americans can visit, learn, and pay their respects to those who sacrificed their lives on that hallowed ground.

National World War II Museum in New Orleans

In 2003, the Smithsonian-affiliated National World War II Museum in New Orleans was designated America’s official World War II Museum by the United States Congress. Through multimedia exhibits and poignant individual narratives, the museum immerses visitors in the epic struggle to defend Europe and preserve the balance of power in Asia. A hugely popular tourist destination and leading light in the world of historical museums, the National World War II Museum has amassed an impressive collection of military artifacts, including a B-17 bomber and other large aircraft. Founded by World War II historian Stephen Ambrose, the museum opened its first gallery on the anniversary of D-Day in 2000. The museum received 700,000 visitors in 2016, the same year the New York Times declared it home of “what may be the country’s best permanent exhibition.” That exhibition, devoted to D-Day, even touted a New Orleans connection: The flat-bottomed boats that stormed the beaches in Normandy were manufactured in the Big Easy.

The museum was recognized by the White House “for its devotion to bringing to life the story of America’s greatest generation and our remarkable victory against the forces of evil. The National World War II Museum has captivated millions of Americans with its compelling exhibits and expansive collections.

The first National Humanities Medal was awarded in 1997. Since then, 194 have been bestowed—to 179 individuals and 15 organizations inclusive of this year’s recipients. A complete list of previous honorees is available at this link.

The humanities medal was presented along with the 2020 National Medal of Arts.


National Endowment for the Humanities: Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at neh.gov.

Media Contacts:
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