WASHINGTON -- 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
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
"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.