Bush honors Robinson
March 2: President Bush gives the Congressional gold medal to Rachel Robinson in honor of her late husband Jackie Robinson, major league baseball’s first African-American player.
LOS ANGELES - Jackie Robinson was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday, more than half a century after breaking baseball’s color barrier.
President Bush gave Congress’ highest honor to Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson, in a stately ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda. The Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate and the commissioner of major league baseball looked on.
“His story is one that shows what one person can do to hold America to account to its founding promise of freedom and equality,” Bush said. “It’s a lesson for people coming up to see. One person can make a big difference in setting the tone of this country.”
When Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, professional baseball was segregated. He died in 1972 and his No. 42 was retired throughout baseball in 1997.
“This medal confirms what we know,” Rachel Robinson said. “Jackie Robinson stands as a heroic role model for all Americans who believe in justice and equality.”
Speakers extolled Robinson as a courageous athlete who suffered taunts and slurs from fans and fellow players, ignoring them as he proved both a brilliant ballplayer and a civil rights hero. The latter role wasn’t one he sought but it became inevitable after Dodgers owner Branch Rickey bucked much of popular opinion and signed him.
“He knew he was a symbol and a barrier-breaker, and that staying the course would have consequences for millions of people to come,” said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Robinson was rookie of the year in 1947, and was voted the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1949 when he batted .342 and drove in 124 runs. He played 10 seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers, often at second base.
He was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962.
Born in Cairo, Ga., Robinson was raised in Pasadena, Calif. and was a four-sport letterman at UCLA.
The legislation to give him the medal was sponsored by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass. It was awarded on the same day Bush honored the Boston Red Sox at the White House for winning the World Series last year.
The Red Sox, the last major league team to integrate, gave Robinson a tryout before he signed with the Dodgers, but chose not to sign him.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor the legislative branch can bestow on a civilian and must be co-sponsored by two-thirds of members in the House and the Senate.
Robinson is only the second major league baseball player ever to get the award — the first was Roberto Clemente, in 1973.
The House approved legislation in January that could have made Robinson ineligible for the honor by restricting posthumous medals to a 20-year period beginning five years after a person’s death. The legislation, which arose from concern that the distinction was being diluted by overuse and also limited medals to two a year, has not yet been approved by the Senate.
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