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Nation's Oldest Learned Societies Present Public Good Awards to Billington, Franklin, and O'Connor


Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, meeting jointly for the first time here, will present lifetime achievement awards to three distinguished Americans at a ceremony at the Library of Congress on Saturday, April 28.

Librarian of the Congress James H. Billington, historian and scholar John Hope Franklin, and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will receive the Public Good Award from the two organizations in recognition of their significant contributions to the advancement of learning and knowledge. The presentation will take place before members of the nation’s oldest learned societies, and also feature remarks by author E.L. Doctorow, readings by poet and Boston University scholar Rosanna Warren, and a performance by singer Emmylou Harris.

The event is part of The Public Good: Knowledge as the Foundation for a Democratic Society, a two-and-a-half-day series of panel discussions, conversations, and dinner programs that focus on some of the most pressing issues facing the nation. The meeting brings together 800 of the foremost scientists, humanists and leaders in business and public affairs from around the country.

Billington is being recognized for his visionary leadership of the Library of Congress, path breaking scholarship, and strong advocacy for libraries and cultural institutions. The Public Good Awardcitation, to be presented by former Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), states:

“Historian, librarian, teacher, administrator, communicator, custodian and disseminator of learning, you have recognized and advanced the power of knowledge as intrinsic to intercultural understanding. From books to bytes, in print and online, you have brought a great house of learning into the digital age, ensuring that Jefferson’s dream of “a universal collection of human knowledge” is a reality for all.”

Franklin is being recognized for being a stalwart champion of civil rights in America and one of the most respected historians of his generation. The Public Good Award citation, to be presented by Duke University Law Professor and former U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger III, states:

“You held up a “Mirror to America,” bore witness to inequality and injustice, and acted against both. Your seminal scholarship has reshaped our understanding of America, providing both blacks and whites with a new reflection of themselves and each other. As the consummate teacher, you reached out to instruct this nation and inspired millions of Americans to grasp a present and a future long owed to them. You personify the great humanitarian; a courageous and gentle man whose strong words and quiet actions are beyond measure. All of us who value freedom and opportunity stand tall in your presence.”

O’Connor is being recognized for a lifetime of public service, as an assistant state attorney general, state legislator, and trailblazing jurist. The Public Good Award citation, to be presented by attorney Conrad Harper, states:

“Intelligence, independence, and integrity have defined your life and work. For those faced with personal and professional challenges, and especially for women, you demonstrated courage, raised expectations, and overcame barriers with strength, spirit, and tenacity. To the Supreme Court, you brought a much-needed voice for fairness, balance, and moderation. In a world beset by divisions, you continue to build bridges and to affirm the importance of public service through your principled words and actions.”

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. Current Academy research focuses on science and global security; social policy; the humanities and culture; and education. The Academy publishes the quarterly journal Dædalus. With headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Academy’s work is advanced by its 4,600 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business and public affairs from around the world. (

The American Philosophical Society, founded in Philadelphia in 1743, is an honorary learned society of 750 resident and 150 international members who are elected in recognition of their outstanding achievements in the arts and sciences or for their distinguished public service. The Society holds biannual meetings for its members, supports a major library specializing in the history of modern science and in American history to 1840, publishes a quarterly journal and scholarly books, maintains an exhibition program, awards prizes for distinguished academic achievement, scholarship, and public service, and annually awards more than $1,400,000 in research grants and fellowships to nearly 200 scholars. (

The joint meeting at which the awards were presented is a project of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands in partnership with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.


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