Darlene Clark Hine and Joan Harris.

Darlene Clark Hine, left, and Joan Harris. (Brent Lewis, For the Chicago Tribune / Brissa Hanzel for Breeze Art / July 22, 2014)

— President Barack Obama will award medals Monday to prominent figures in the arts and humanities, including two Chicagoans: Joan Harris, a leading patron of the arts, and Darlene Clark Hine, a Northwestern University professor who explores the history of African-American women.

Harris will receive a National Medal of Arts, and Hine will receive a National Humanities Medal.

Harris and her late husband were major contributors to the Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park. She has led several arts boards and nonprofits in Chicago, and during the 1980s she was commissioner of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.

Harris, 83, said she was thrilled to get the award and only wished her husband could be with her to enjoy the day. She paid homage to her collaborators in the arts, saying everything she had done she had done with a team. 

She also said she didn't like being called an arts "patron," though the White House used that word. "I'm an enabler," she said. 

Hine will be cited for examining race, class and gender, and showing how the struggles and successes of African-American women "shaped the nation we share today."

A prodigious author and editor, Hine is a Northwestern professor of history and African-American studies. She co-edited "The Black Chicago Renaissance" and edited a three-volume encyclopedia, "Black Women in America."

Hine, 68, said she was "simply speechless" when she learned of the honor two weeks ago.

"I just didn't anticipate it," she said. "Never expected it. And of course I'm quite pleased, but I always remind myself and my students and people around me that I'm a historian, I'm not the history. The people that really deserve these medals are the people that I write about.

"I would just underscore that it is important for us to appreciate the contributions that all people, regardless of race, gender, class and other identity markers, have made to the fulfillment of the American promise."

First lady Michelle Obama will attend the afternoon ceremony, the White House said.


Twitter @KatherineSkiba