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Jackie Robinson Honored With Congressional Gold Medal

March 2, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: It was standing room only inside the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol this afternoon to award posthumously the Congressional Gold Medal to Jackie Robinson, the first to break baseball’s color barrier. President Bush was among the dozens of elected officials, civil rights leaders and sports personalities who joined in honoring Robinson.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I found what Martin Luther King’s quote about him interesting. He said he was a freedom rider before freedom rides. That’s a pretty high compliment when you think about it. To me, it just says courage and decency and honor.

KWAME HOLMAN: The accompanying resolution approved by the Congress recognized Robinson’s remarkable athletic achievements, both in college and as a member of baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson won the National League’s Rookie of the Year award in 1947 and its Most Valuable Player award two years later.

But it was Robinson’s exceptional fortitude and integrity, the resolution cited, that had a profound influence on civil and human rights in America. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry co-sponsored the Robinson tribute.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: He risked his life. He risked his family. Branch Ricky wondered how he endured the racial epithets and flying cleats, hate letters and death threats, pitchers throwing at his head and legs, catchers spitting on his shoes.

KWAME HOLMAN: North Carolina’s Mel Watt is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

REP. MEL WATT: He knew he was a symbol and a barrier-breaker and that staying the course would have consequences for millions of people to come.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rachel Robinson, who stood with her husband through those torturous years of his early career, accepted the Congressional Gold Medal on his behalf.

RACHEL ROBINSON: This medal confirms what we know: Jackie Robinson stands as a heroic role model for all Americans who believe in justice and equality. Once again my thanks to all for this generous expression of appreciation for a life well lived. Thank you.

KWAME HOLMAN: Shortly after her husband’s death in 1972, Rachel Robinson created the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which continues to provide college scholarships and other educational opportunities to minority students.