WASHINGTON – Baseball legend Jackie Robinson (search) was honored by Congress on Wednesday with its highest civilian award.
The late Brooklyn Dodger great was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal (search) in a ceremony attended by President Bush. Bush presented the medal to Robinson's widow Rachel, saying the recognition is not only for the baseball legend's career but also his historic role in breaking down baseball's racial barrier.
"His story is one that shows what one person can do to hold America to account to its founding promise of freedom and equality," said Bush.
Robinson's widow called it a "thrilling" moment for her family.
The medal confirms that Robinson was a "heroic role model for Americans who believe in justice and equality," she said.
Robinson broke Major League Baseball's (search) racial barrier when he began playing for the Dodgers in 1947. In his 10-year career, the Dodgers won the pennant six times and the World Series once.
Prior to the award ceremony, Robinson's son David said his father's feat translated beyond the sporting world and helped change American society as well. America will be honoring "ourselves as a nation" when the honor is bestowed, he said.
The ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda was meant as a culmination of Black History Month (search). It honored not only Robinson's becoming the first black player in the big leagues in 1947, but a lifetime spent opposing racial discrimination.
Robinson's biography reads like a dream. He is the first person to letter in four sports in the same year at UCLA. He served in the Army before entering professional baseball, where he broke records and won several distinctions.
After retiring from baseball, he was vice president of the coffee company Chock Full O' Nuts and co-founded Freedom National Bank of Harlem (search) and a construction company aimed at helping black Americans become homeowners. He led thousands of students on a civil rights march and in his efforts was closely aligned with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. He served on the campaign of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and later was a special assistant to him. He also campaigned for Hubert Humphrey in his presidential run in 1968.
Robinson died in 1972. The following year, his wife established the Jackie Robinson Foundation to help young minorities get scholarships.
Robinson is only the second baseball player to get the Congressional Gold Medal. The other was Roberto Clemente (search). In 1984, Robinson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (search) by Ronald Reagan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.