Bayard Rustin speaks from a platform in front of New York’s City Hall at a rally in favor of integrating schools on May 18, 1964. (AP Photo/File)
by Zenitha Prince
For New Pittsburgh Courier
(NNPA)–Four African Americans are among the 16 recipients of this year’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor.
President Barack Obama announced the winners on Aug. 8, marking the 50th anniversary of the award, which was established by President Kennedy. Since its founding, the award has been conferred on more than 500 individuals who have made especially exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
“The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours,” the president said in a statement. “This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation’s gratitude.”
Among the African-Americans who will be recognized this year are three men and one woman who have distinguished themselves in the fields of sports, civic engagement, philanthropy and the media.
Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame baseball player Ernie Banks poses in front of his newly unveiled statue in front of Wrigley Field in Chicago on March 31, 2008. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
Ernie Banks, or “Mr. Cub” as he is known to many, is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. During his 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, he played in 11 All-Star Games, hit more than 500 home runs, and became the first National League player to win Most Valuable Player honors in back-to-back years. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year of eligibility.
Bayard Rustin, who is being honored posthumously, is most known for organizing the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. As an openly gay African-American, Rustin was an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad.
Civil rights activist C.T. Vivian speaks to a journalist at his home in Atlanta on January 8, 2012. (AP Photo/File)
Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian is a distinguished minister, author, and organizer. A leader in the Civil Rights Movement and friend to Dr. King, he participated in Freedom Rides and sit-ins across our country. Dr. Vivian also helped found numerous civil rights organizations, including Vision, the National Anti-Klan Network, and the Center for Democratic Renewal. In 2012, he returned to serve as interim President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Oprah Winfrey speaks during Harvard University’s commencement ceremonies May 30, 2013 in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)
Oprah Winfrey is a household name around the world. One of the world’s most successful broadcast journalists, she is best known for creating “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which became the highest rated talk show in America for 25 years. Winfrey has long been active in philanthropic causes and expanding opportunities for young women. She has received numerous awards throughout her career, including the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2002 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2010.
The foursome joins an august group of Blacks who have previously received this honor, including Sidney Poitier, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Maya Angelou, among many others.
They’ll join other prominent people to be honored this year, including a former president, musicians, scientists, activists — even an astronaut.
The president decides on the list of medal recipients after reviewing an advisory board’s recommendations of individuals who have contributed to America’s cultural, security and other public interests.
Others who will receive the medal:
Former President Bill Clinton speaks in Washington July 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
-Bill Clinton, former Arkansas’ governor before being elected the 42nd president. Clinton will be recognized also for his humanitarian work through the Clinton Foundation, which promotes global public health, economic development and environmental protection.
—Daniel Inouye, former senator from Hawaii, World War II veteran and the first Japanese American in Congress. Inouye will receive the award posthumously.
—Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Washington Post who oversaw the newspaper’s coverage of Watergate.
—Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space. Ride will receive the award posthumously.
—Richard Lugar, former senator from Indiana who worked to reduce the global nuclear threat.
Gloria Steinem is interviewed by The Associated Press in New York August 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
—Gloria Steinem, writer and prominent women’s rights activist.
—Daniel Kahneman, psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics.