Obama to award Oprah, Bill Clinton Presidential Medals of Freedom

Dylan Stableford
Yahoo News
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are pictured with Oprah Winfrey during a taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show at Harpo Studios in Chicago, Wednesday, April 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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President Barack Obama announced on Thursday the latest recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor presented to "individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States," "world peace" or to "cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."

Among them, two of the president's biggest political supporters: Oprah Winfrey and former President Bill Clinton.

According to the White House release, Winfrey is being honored as "one of the world’s most successful broadcast journalists" and for "philanthropic causes and expanding opportunities for young women."

Winfrey and Clinton aren't the only Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients with historical ties to Obama.

The late Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye represented Obama's home state of Hawaii on Capitol Hill. Ernie Banks, the Hall of Fame slugger, played his entire career for the Chicago Cubs — the crosstown rival of the White Sox, the president's preferred hometown team. And former Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican who served with Obama on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Obama was a junior senator from Illinois, will be honored for his "bipartisan leadership and decades-long commitment to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons."

“The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours," Obama said in a statement announcing this year's list.

Also among the 16 recipients named on Thursday were writer and women's rights activist Gloria Steinem; the late Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut to travel to space; jazz trumpeter, pianist and composer Arturo Sandoval; and legendary college basketball coach Dean Smith.

Two advisers to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — Cordy Tindell "C.T." Vivian and the late Bayard Rustin — were named for their efforts during the civil rights movement.

The awards will be presented at the White House later this year. More than 500 people have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom since President John F. Kennedy established it in 1963.

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