They and 11 others received the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
The medal pays tribute to "individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," according to the White House blog.
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Mendez's journey to activism began at 8 years old when she was denied entrance to an all-white school, according to her website.
Mendez' parents sued the school district and helped overturn the precedent of segregation. Mendez has since educated students about the case and its importance, according to the Orange County Register.
President Barack Obama presented the awards and said of Mendez, "She has made it her mission to spread her message of tolerance and opportunity to children of all backgrounds and all walks of life," the newspaper reported.