More than a generation after his passing, Jackie Robinson—the legendary player who had broken baseball’s color barrier in the late 1940s—received the Congressional Gold Medal at a U.S. Capitol ceremony on March 2, 2005.
President George W. Bush made the presentation to the family of the late star infielder, who died in 1972 at the age of 53.
Robinson, the son of sharecroppers in the U.S. state of Georgia, enjoyed a stellar collegiate athletic career in four sports at the University of California at Los Angeles. He then served in the U.S. Army before entering sport’s professional ranks with the Kansas City Monarchs of the famed Negro Baseball League. Two years later, at the behest—and cajoling—of Branch Rickey, the legendary president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson became the first black player in major league baseball since segregation had taken hold of the sport in 1889.
The career that followed galvanized devotees not only of the Dodgers, but of the baseball and sports worlds overall. Lightning on the base-paths, daring and confrontational on defense, and possessor of a powerful hitting ability, Robinson eventually was voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Following are excerpts of President Bush’s remarks at the U.S. Capitol: The President:
. . . I’m honored to be here for the—to present the Congressional Gold Medal to Mrs. Robinson. It’s a great tradition of our Congress to honor fantastic and noble Americans, and we’re doing just the thing with Jack Roosevelt Robinson.You know, he was a great ball player. Anybody who follows baseball knows how great he was—fantastic statistics: MVP, all the big honors you could get. But his electricity was unbelievable. Think about this. This is a guy who inspired little seven-year-olds to dream of wearing “42” and dashing for home in Brooklyn, and a seven-year-old like me hoping to get his Topps baseball card, even though I was an avid Giants fan. He was an amazing guy. And his story was powerful then, and it is powerful today.His story is one that shows what one person can do to hold America account—to account to its founding promise of freedom and equality. It’s a lesson for people coming up to see. One person can make a big difference in setting the tone of this country.He always fought for what he called “first-class citizenship.” That’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it— “first-class citizenship.” Not second-class, not third-class—first-class citizenship for all. As John Kerry mentioned, it started in the Army. Obviously, it really manifested itself on the baseball field. After all, it was Branch Rickey who said he was looking for a man to cross the color line who could play baseball and had the character necessary to do so. Jackie Robinson had both. And that’s why we’re honoring him today.I found Martin Luther King’s quote about him interesting. I’m sure you will, too. He said, “He was a freedom rider before freedom rides.This son of Georgia sharecroppers was taught by his mother that the best weapon against racism was the use of his talent, his God-given talent, not to waste a minute, and he didn’t. And that spirit, passed on from mother to son, and now son to family, still lives through the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The Jackie Robinson Foundation is a noble cause to help academically gifted students of color go to college. I know the Dodgers will continue to support that foundation. I hope baseball continues to do so, as well.It is my honor now to join Speaker Hastert and Senator Stevens in presenting the Congressional Gold Medal to Rachel Robinson, in the name of her husband, the great baseball star and great American, Jackie Robinson.
1. According to the passage, what was Jackie Robinson’s greatest achievement?
a. induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame
b. lightning-fast speed between bases
c. being the first black major league baseball player
d. powerful hitting
2. According to the speech included in this passage, Robinson was successful in making such strides because he
a. had been trained in the army.
b. was the son of sharecroppers.
c. had an innate baseball talent and ability.
d. had extraordinary character and ability.
3. Robinson fought for “first-class citizenship.” This likely meant that he would
a. always demand first-class transportation.
b. never strive for anything less than equal and respectful treatment.
c. have been satisfied to continue playing in the African-American league.
d. demand top salary as a hugely talented major league baseball player.
4. According to the passage, Dr. Martin Luther King once said about Robinson, “He was a freedom rider before freedom riders.” This means that Robinson was
a. a proponent of multi-cultural freedom bus rides into the South.
b. the first civil rights activist in American history.
c. a proponent of civil rights before the movement had actually begun.
d. free when others were still not free.
5. Read this excerpt from the president’s speech:
His story is one that shows what one person can do to hold America account—to account to its founding promise of freedom and equality. It’s a lesson for people coming up to see. One person can make a big difference in setting the tone of this country.
Explain how one person can make such a big difference in this world. Why is this an important and timeless lesson?