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Beacon Awards to highlight Civil Rights events

It's a unique sporting event, a game that celebrates history and the progressive movement of all people toward equal rights. Major League Baseball, which will stage the sixth annual Civil Rights Game in Atlanta on Aug. 18, released the schedule and highlights of its surrounding events on Thursday.

The Civil Rights Game, sponsored by Delta Air Lines, will be played at Turner Field for the second successive year and will be aired nationally on MLB Network. The Braves will play host to the Dodgers in the 7 p.m. ET game, which will follow MLB's tribute to deserving heroes at the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon.

The events will begin on Friday, Aug. 17, with a roundtable discussion on baseball and the civil rights movement moderated by Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree. They continue Saturday with the Beacon Awards, which are annually presented to individuals -- be they in sports, arts, politics or otherwise -- whose lives are emblematic of the spirit of the civil rights movement.

This year's honorees will be former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe, Georgia congressman John Lewis and the founding members of the recording group Earth, Wind & Fire. And yet another starring role will go to the city of Atlanta, home to many of the key leaders who helped propel the civil rights movement.

"Major League Baseball is delighted to once again hold the 2012 Delta Civil Rights Game in Atlanta, one of the important centers of the civil rights movement," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Appropriately, the game will feature the Braves and the Dodgers, the respective franchises of two legends of our game, Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson. The Civil Rights Game is an opportunity to honor the national pastime's place in this important era in our country's history, and we thank the Braves and Delta Air Lines for sharing our enthusiasm for this occasion."

Newcombe, the first African-American pitcher to play in an All-Star Game in 1949, will be presented with the MLB Beacon of Hope Award, a designation previously won by Vera Clemente, MLB Goodwill Ambassador and the widow of the legendary Roberto Clemente, and famed entertainers Morgan Freeman, Harry Belafonte and Bill Cosby. Newcombe is one of just two players in MLB history to have won Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards.

Earth, Wind & Fire will be presented with the MLB Beacon of Change Award, which in recent years has been awarded to noted difference-makers like Spike Lee, Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King. Last year, the award went to famous rock guitarist Carlos Santana for his decades of success and philanthropy.

The Beacon of Life Award will go to Lewis, considered one of the "Big Six" of the civil rights movement and a congressman in Georgia since 1987. Lewis, a former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, has dedicated his life to securing civil liberties.

Past winners of the MLB Beacon of Life include former Negro League star and baseball ambassador Buck O'Neil and all-time greats Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays and Ernie Banks.

Hundreds of local children will be involved in a clinic at Turner Field on Aug. 18 from 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. The Civil Rights Game will be preceded by pregame ceremonies recognizing the Beacon Award honorees.

John Schuerholz, president of the Braves, said the team is thrilled to be a part of the game again.

"We are proud to once again host the Delta Civil Rights Game and its surrounding activities," said Schuerholz. "It's an honor to help continue to spread the importance of baseball's past with Major League Baseball from a city that has such a historical connection to civil rights."