Every day I am able to serve as the United States Ambassador to Canada is a great day. But some days are simply amazing. Yesterday was one of them. I should return my paycheck for yesterday.
We gathered in Montreal at the home Jackie and Rachel Robinson lived in during the summer of 1946 when Jackie played for the Montreal Royals before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier. The consulate in Montreal planned the event as part of Black History Month. We were joined by Jackie and Rachel’s daughter Sharon, Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay, Quebec Minister of Education, Leisure and Sport Line Beauchamp, Michael Farkas, President of the Round Table on Black History Month, and many hearty souls who braved the snow and the cold. And we were all hosted by the gracious current owner of the house, Eric Boudreault.
We were there to celebrate some of our common history. And something very special that was done by the people of Montreal during the summer of 1946.
I love baseball. I always have. I always will.
It is more than just a game to me and to so many people across North America. As a long suffering Cubs fan, baseball has taught me the importance of hope. And of renewal — every spring when teams report for spring training. All too often as a Cubs fan it has taught me the bitter lessons of defeat.
What began for Jackie and Rachel Robinson in that house in Montreal represents all of those emotions and so much more.
When Jackie Robinson broke into baseball he had some difficult times. In some places in the United States he was treated shamefully. But the people in that house in Montreal, the people in his neighborhood, the people of Montreal were so much better. They showed us the way. They gave us hope. They gave us renewal.
And through the bravery of Jackie Robinson — and so many others over the years — my country changed. Changed for the better. I am the representative to the Canadian people of an African American President of the United States. I suspect if you asked the people who lived in the Montreal neighborhood in 1946 if that was ever likely to happen they would have laughed. But what happened there was an important step on that journey.
After the outdoor ceremony a group of us went back to our Montreal Consul General Lee McClenny’s house. Sharon Robinson spoke eloquently about her father and the way he faced the challenges both in baseball and in life.
I had the opportunity to read the most famous column, “Jackie’s Debut a Unique Day“, from my favorite columnist, Chicago’s Mike Royko. Mike wrote the column on the day that Jackie Robinson died. It is such a moving account of the tremendous impression it made on Mike, the kid, when he had the opportunity to see Jackie Robinson play for the first time in Chicago. I’d really urge you to follow the link and experience it for yourself.
It was an honor and a privilege to participate in the dedication. Jackie Robinson didn’t just change baseball, he changed America. We owe a debt of gratitude to the people of Montreal for the warm way they welcomed him. Hopefully yesterday, we paid back a little of our obligation.