UNC's Dean Smith among those receiving Presidential Medal of Fre - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

UNC's Dean Smith receiving Presidential Medal of Freedom

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"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," Obama 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," Obama said in a statement.
WASHINGTON -

Former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, described by some as a legend and civil rights leader, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the White House confirmed Thursday.

Smith led the Tar Heels to more than 850 wins in his storied career but it also was his role off the court that his friends loved him for.

Former Binkley Baptist Church pastor Bob Edwards Seymour Jr. has known Smith for more than 50 years.

"The basketball is impressive, but the man is more impressive than the basketball," Seymour said. "He was one who was always willing to face up to the implications of social justice issues."

Seymour, 82, said Smith still goes to church on Sundays and remembers when Smith was consumed by his desire to end racial inequality. "A number of times my telephone would ring before practice and he would say, 'Tell me something Martin Luther King said that I can tell the team before we practice.'"

Smith's crucial role in the civil rights movement is just one of many reasons he's being awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy created the medal - the highest honor the U.S. bestows on civilians – by signing an executive order. In the five decades since, more than 500 people have been recognized for contributions to society of all stripes.

"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," Obama said in a statement.

Smith joins a list that includes former President Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey.

Clinton, who served as Arkansas' governor before being elected the 42nd president, will be recognized also for his humanitarian work through the Clinton Foundation, which promotes global public health, economic development and environmental protection. The White House also noted his work with former President George W. Bush to raise money for Haiti after the Caribbean nation's devastating 2010 earthquake. Clinton also spoke on Obama's behalf at the 2012 Democratic convention, and his wife, former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, was Obama's first-term secretary of state.

Winfrey's career as an American broadcaster, actress and activist has spanned decades, with The Oprah Winfrey Show becoming the highest rated talk show in America for 25 years. Her philanthropic efforts have been focused largely on education and creating opportunities for women and girls, in the U.S. and Africa. She was also an early and avid supporter of Obama's first presidential campaign, raising money and campaigning in what was considered a major boost to Obama's campaign.

Others who will receive the medal:

-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, writer and prominent women's rights activist.

-Ernie Banks, baseball player who hit more than 500 home runs and played 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs.

-Bayard Rustin, civil and gay rights activist and adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. Rustin will receive the award posthumously.

-Daniel Kahneman, psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

-Loretta Lynn, country music singer.

-Maria Molina, chemist and environmental scientist who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

-Arturo Sandoval, Grammy-winning jazz musician who was born in Cuba and defected to the U.S.

-Patricia Wald, first woman appointed to U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and became the court's chief judge.

-C.T. Vivian, civil rights leader and minister.

 

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