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Congressional Gold Medal to Jackie Robinson

Location: Washington, DC

PAGE S12853
Oct. 17, 2003

Congressional Gold Medal to Jackie Robinson

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to pay tribute to Jackie Robinson—a great ballplayer, great leader and a great American.

Most Americans know of Jackie Robinson's baseball greatness. He was the 1947 Rookie of the Year; the National League Most Valuable Player in 1949; he lead the Dodgers to six pennants and one World Series; he batted over 300 for his career; and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.

But there is, of course, far more to the story of Jackie Robinson than talent and success on the baseball diamond.

[Page S12854]

Jackie Robinson was born in 1919 in Cairo, GA. He was the grandson of a slave and son of a sharecropper. As a boy, he moved with his family to Pasadena, CA. Jackie was born a competitor and excelled at sports from a young age. His talents earned him a scholarship to UCLA, where he lettered in football, basketball, baseball, and track—and he was heralded as one of the best-all-around athletes in the country.

After college, Robinson was drafted into the Army. He rose to the rank of second lieutenant, and along the way he fought for equality and against injustice. Robinson and his good friend, the boxer Joe Louis, opened an Officer Candidate School to black soldiers. When Robinson was ordered to sit in the back of a bus at Fort Hood, TX, he refused and was court-martialed. Robinson stood his ground at the court martial, and for his bravery he was exonerated when the order was ruled a violation of Army regulations.

After the Army, Robinson signed to play for 2 years in the Negro Baseball League for the Kansas City Monarchs. Then in 1947, Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first African-American to play in the major leagues. It's hard to imagine the personal courage this demanded of Robinson. Branch Rickey, the president of the Dodgers, said that, "Robinson was the target of racial epithets and flying cleats, of hate letters and death threats, of pitchers throwing at his head and legs, and catchers spitting on his shoes."

But for all the hatred and ignorance Robinson faced, he responded with strength. Roger Kahn captured that strength in Boys of Summer when he wrote that Robinson "bore the burden of a pioneer and the weight made him stronger. If one can be certain of anything in baseball, it is that we shall not look upon his like again."

Today, it is hard to understand the significance of Robinson signing in the majors. It happened before our military was
desegregated, before the civil rights marches in the South, and before the historic ruling in Brown v. the Board of Education. Robinson engaged America in a constructive conversation about race even before other great leaders like Martin Luther King.
Indeed, King once said that his great crusade for racial justice would not have been possible if not for Jackie Robinson.
Robinson's skill, demeanor and fortitude made him one of the most popular people in America, and he used his fame to encourage the fair treatment of all people. His ideas and principles influenced John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower.
After retiring from professional baseball in 1957, he dedicated himself to fighting for equality and justice. He was a leader with the NAACP, chairing its Freedom Fund Drive in 1957, and was awarded its highest achievement award. Jackie and his wife, Rachel, began annual concerts to benefit civil rights and voter registration drives in the South. In 1964, Jackie helped create a minority-owned commercial bank based in Harlem, New York, called the Freedom National Bank. He also started the Jackie Robinson Construction Company to build low-income housing.

On October 15, 1972, Jackie Robinson attended a World Series Game that commemorated the 25th anniversary of the breaking of the color line in baseball. At the game, as he had done in the past, Jackie called for more opportunities for black Americans. Unfortunately, Jackie passed away only 9 days—later and today—56 years after Jackie signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers—we have yet to achieve the opportunity for all he so desired.

Jackie Robinson once said that, "a life is not important, except in the impact it has on other lives." Jackie Robinson not only impacted lives, he impacted the very spirit of our country. He was more than a sports hero—he was an American hero.

And it is time for Congress to recognize his heroic contributions to the Nation by awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest expression of congressional appreciation and has been bestowed on great leaders like George Washington, Winston Churchill and Rosa Parks. I cannot think of a more deserving person to join this distinguished group than Jackie Robinson.

As I close my remarks, I thank the Boston Red Sox and Larry Luchino and George Mitrovich for helping with this legislation. I also thank Senator McCain for joining as our lead cosponsor and Representative RICHARD NEAL for passing this legislation through the House of Representatives.

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