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President Barack Obama reaches up to present a 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom to basketball hall of fame member, former Boston Celtics coach and captain Bill Russell, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama presented NBA great Bill Russell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

It is, along with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor in the U.S.

Other recipients this year included poet Maya Angelou and former President George H.W. Bush.

Russell's achievements in the sports world are legendary.

The towering center not only dominated the court, helping the late Red Auerbach create a basketball dynasty in Boston, he was a civil rights pioneer, blasting past racial barriers in the sports world. He won 11 NBA championships with the Celtics. In 1966, he became the first African-American to coach a professional sports team. In 1976, he was the first black person inducted into the NBA's Hall of Fame.

The Bill Russell legend began at McClymonds High School in West Oakland in the early 1950s.

Mack is known as the School of Champions because of its reputation for churning out star athletes over the decades.

Russell, who graduated in 1952, is the most famous.

Yet there were many, many others. Russell's basketball teammate was Frank Robinson, who would go on to become a Major League Baseball All-Star and the first African-American manager in major league baseball. Over the years, they would be followed by Paul Silas, the former NBA All-Star and now interim coach of the Charlotte Bobcats; Joe Ellis, Nate Williams and Antonio Davis, all NBA players; Vada Pinson, Curt Flood, Curt Roberts and Willie Tasby, who all went on to play Major League Baseball; Olympic gold medalist Jim Hines, who would become the first sprinter to officially break the 10-second barrier in the 100-yard dash.

McClymonds alums didn't just excel in sports. Lionel Wilson would become mayor of Oakland. Ron Dellums, a congressman and Oakland mayor, also attended. Alumnae Ruth, Anita, Bonnie and June Pointer would form the Pointer Sisters and churn out pop hits in the 1970s and '80s.

Other McClymonds graduates would go on to more quiet successes in their chosen fields. They weren't household names but they worked hard, raised their families and became productive members of the community.

My parents both graduated from McClymonds. My father, William Drummond, class of '60, was student body president. He went on to become one of the first African-American journalists hired at the Los Angeles Times.

My mother, Faye Drummond, class of '62, was head cheerleader. She was a longtime aide to late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Mack also produced teachers, principals, doctors, business owners and letter carriers who would form the bedrock of the community.

Like Russell, many McClymonds graduates are descendants of African-Americans who migrated to Oakland to escape racial violence in the South.

Segregation wasn't enshrined into the law in California. Blacks, however, still faced rampant discrimination.

Most African-Americans lived in West Oakland because they weren't welcome in other neighborhoods.

It was a tight-knit community, where children were raised in loving but strict households. People who often had not had an opportunity to finish high school, much less college, placed a high value on education. They drove their children to succeed.

Russell is very much a product of that environment.

I'm not surprised that he said that receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom is his second highest honor. His greatest honor was when his father told him he was proud of the man he turned out to be.

Russell's home, West Oakland, began to change in the 1950s. The Nimitz Freeway divided the community and isolated parts of it from downtown. Many houses were razed, forcing mass relocations. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, more homes were knocked down to build the main post office on Seventh Street and the West Oakland BART station.

Meanwhile, legislation that prevented housing discrimination enabled blacks to move into other parts of the city and beyond. Their departure deprived the churches and other social institutions of their lifeblood.

McClymonds' student population has shrunk from about 900 in the early 1960s to 250 students today.

Yet it still has a legacy to be proud of.

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for Bay Area News Group. Contact her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com or follow her at Twitter.com/tammerlin.