“Lincoln’’ director Steven Spielberg, the movie’s screenwriter, Tony Kushner, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and NBA Commissioner David Stern were honored with W.E.B. Du Bois medals at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre on Wednesday afternoon. The Du Bois Medal recognizes people who have contributed to African and African-American culture. Presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett and US Representative John Lewis also received medals but did not attend the event. “Valerie could not be here today for reasons those of you who read the papers or watch the news will know,’’ Governor Deval Patrick said of Jarrett at the celebration. “And those of you who don’t, should. There is an insurgency underway in Washington and she is there dealing with that,’’ Patrick said, referring to the government shutdown. Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust introduced Spielberg, who talked about Henry Louis “Skip’’ Gates Jr., the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African & African American Research. Spielberg said, “When ‘Lincoln’ was just about to come out and the reviews were coming in, and they were good reviews, and the only thing I cared about was: What does Skip Gates think about it? I was very relieved when Tony Kushner called me on the phone and he said, ‘He really liked it.’ So I got my first good night’s sleep in weeks after that.’’ Spielberg added, of the medal, “This is a laurel upon which I promise not to rest, but instead to keep moving uphill because nothing gets done unless we’re all going uphill. And we get to the top, maybe then I’ll look down and I’ll say, ‘Well, I earned it’ then.’’
American Repertory Theater artistic director Diane Paulus introduced Kushner, who then told the audience, to some laughter, that he was “deeply, deeply moved,’’ “incredibly happy,’’ and “totally unworthy.’’ Celtics legend Bill Russell, who introduced Stern, also got some laughs when he told the crowd that he “used to send checks’’ to Harvard because his youngest child is a Harvard Law grad. Sotomayor, the Supreme Court’s first Hispanic justice, was greeted with a long standing ovation after being introduced by Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow, who praised her for pursuing “justice every day.’’ Sotomayor said she was “so deeply humbled’’ by the honor.
The event also marked the official launch of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research. After the VIPs had departed, Gates stood outside as various people came up and congratulated him. “It’s a marvelous moment,’’ Gates said. . . . Meanwhile, not far from where Sotomayor was honored, her fellow Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave a talk at Tufts University called “Interpreting the Constitution.’’ It was part of the Richard E. Snyder President’s Lecture Series.