On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color line when the Brooklyn Dodgers started him on first base. Robinson rose to become a beloved political activist, fighting for civil rights and speaking out against discrimination.

With the release of a new PBS documentary, Jackie Robinson, Congressman Richard Neal joined Boston Public Radio  to look back on the life of the infamous baseball player, who Neal worked to honor with Congress’ highest civilian honor in 2005.

Neal sponsored legislation to award Robinson the Congressional Gold Medal, which he presented to Robinson’s widow, Rachel. “I was approached by Larry Lucchino,” Neal said, “and I think that there was, on their part, some sense of guilt as to what had happened to Jackie Robinson during his infamous tryout with the Red Sox, [when] he tried out in the morning and there was nobody there to watch him.”

Neal worked with President George W. Bush and then-U.S. Senator John Kerry, who were included in the Capitol Rotunda at the event.  “It gave me a chance to become very friendly with Rachel Robinson,” Neal said. “She is really an outstanding woman, great dignity.”

“I got to understand better what had confronted Jackie Robinson, and he was of no small personality,” Neal said. “Robinson was outspoken at a time when there was very few people who were outspoken.”

Congressman Richard Neal is  a U.S. Representative for the 1st Congressional District of Massachusetts.To hear the full interview, click on the audio link above.