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Obama to award Oprah, Ernie Banks Medal of Freedom

Oprah Winfrey Ernie Banks will receive Presidential Medal Honor.

Oprah Winfrey and Ernie Banks will receive the Presidential Medal of Honor.

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Updated: August 8, 2013 6:59PM

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday tapped two Chicago icons — friend Oprah Winfrey and “Mr. Cub,” Ernie Banks — to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor and will be awarded later this year.

That Obama, a South Sider, is a White Sox fan did not disqualify Banks for the award. During Banks’ 19 seasons with the Cubs, he became one of the most famous players on the team — a standing he retains to this day. Banks was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.

Winfrey is a friend of the president and first lady Michelle and is “one of the world’s most successful broadcast journalists,” the White House said in the announcement. She “has long been active in philanthropic causes and expanding opportunities for young women.”

The honor comes as Winfrey’s latest movie, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is making its debut. The film is the story of a long-serving White House butler in which Winfrey plays the role of the butler’s wife. This is her second Obama-era honor; in 2010 she was a Kennedy Center honoree.

Among the others named for the honor:

Civil rights leader Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian, who was raised in central Illinois, attended Western Illinois University and was an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tindell moved to Chicago in 1966 “to direct the Urban Training Center for Christian Mission,” according to a Stanford University biography.

In addition, the medal will go to former President Bill Clinton, author Gloria Steinem, former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, singer Loretta Lynn, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, chemist Mario Molina, musician Arturo Sandoval, former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, retired federal judge Patricia Wald and former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). Obama became close to Lugar when he was a freshman senator from Illinois.

Receiving posthumous honors are Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), astronaut Sally Ride and gay rights activist Bayard Rustin.


Twitter: @lynnsweet

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