Edward Roybal to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Photo courtesy UCLA Edward Roybal is sworn in as a Los Angeles City Council member in this 1949 photo.

Photo courtesy UCLA

Edward Roybal is sworn in as a Los Angeles City Council member in this 1949 photo.

DOWNEY – Edward Roybal, the first Hispanic to serve Congress since 1879 and the father of Downey resident and Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, will be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the White House has announced. Lucille Roybal-Allard will accept the award on her father’s behalf at a White House ceremony Nov. 24.

“My family and I are deeply honored that President Obama is honoring our father by posthumously awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his life’s work,” the congresswoman said. “Our father was a consensus builder who labored quietly and effectively on issues important not only to the communities he represented but also to the entire nation; Americans are healthier and better educated thanks to his unceasing efforts.  He was a pioneering Latino politician who co-founded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and blazed a trail for generations of Latino politicians and activists to come.

“My father has always been a role model to me and our family, and I trust that with this honor, he will become a role model for all Americans.”

Throughout his public service on the Los Angeles City Council and in the U.S. Congress, Congressman Edward R. Roybal was “a man of the people” who believed in a government committed to helping the underrepresented, the dispossessed, and the forgotten.

His humanity was reflected in every aspect of his public career – he authored landmark legislation regarding fair housing, equal employment, bilingual education, childhood immunization, aging, HIV/AIDS, and care for people with disabilities, and secured public health funds to reach people at risk.  Throughout his political career, he had the moral courage to speak out against injustices and wrongs, and to never stand down when others advised him that it could cost him his political future.

He was born on Feb. 10, 1916, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the age of six, his family moved to the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles. After graduation from Roosevelt High School in 1934, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps.  He later continued his education at UCLA, where he studied business administration, and at Southwestern University, where he studied law.

After working for the California Tuberculosis Association, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Upon his return, he continued his work with the California Tuberculosis Association as its director of health education for Los Angeles County.

Roybal first ran unsuccessfully for the Los Angeles City Council in 1947.  Reacting positively to his defeat, he co-founded the Community Service Organization (CSO) to empower the neglected Ninth District of Los Angeles to fight against discrimination in housing, employment, and education.

In 1949, following a groundswell of support from minority communities, Roybal was elected to serve the Ninth District on the Los Angeles City Council. He made history as the first Hispanic to serve on the city council in more than a century. He served the Ninth District for 13 years.

Roybal was the Democratic nominee for California Lieutenant Governor in 1954. In 1958, his opponent was declared the winner in a controversial vote count for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Roybal served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years. He was first elected to the House in 1962 to serve the 30th District of California, which included communities like Boyle Heights, Hollywood, Hancock Park, MacArthur Park, and Downtown Los Angeles. He was the first Hispanic from California to serve in Congress since 1879.

Following the redistricting based on the 1970 census, Rep. Roybal won election in California’s newly created 25th District, which, like the 30th, was comprised of constituents from widely diverse ethnicities.

Roybal was an advocate for funding for education, civil rights, and health programs. He was the first member of Congress to appropriate funding for HIV/AIDS research.

Early in his congressional career, Rep. Roybal served on the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, the Post Office Committee, and later the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. In 1971, he was selected to serve on the exclusive Committee on Appropriations, where he remained for the rest of his tenure in the House. He became one of the 13 cardinals of the House when he was elected chair of the Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee in 1981.

Roybal also served on the Select Committee on Aging, serving as chair from 1985 to 1993. In 1980, he led a campaign for the restoration of funds to programs for the elderly.  In 1982, he was successful in maintaining the Meals on Wheels program. He was also one of the principal authors of the Older Americans Act.

In 1976, Rep. Roybal was one of the founding members and the first chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI).  He was also a founding member of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO).

In 1992, his daughter, then-California Assemblywoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, was elected to serve the newly created 33rd Congressional District of California.

In 1993, former Rep. Roybal used his remaining campaign funds to found the non-profit Edward R. Roybal Foundation to award scholarships for students in public health.  He also founded the Edward R. Roybal Institute for Applied Gerontology, dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of health and human service delivery to older persons at the California State University – Los Angeles campus.

In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) honored Rep. Roybal for his trailblazing leadership and long-standing support for public health programs by naming its main campus in Atlanta in his honor and awarding him its Champion of Prevention Award.

In 2001, President Clinton awarded Rep. Roybal the Presidential Citizens Medal for over 50 years of “exemplary deeds of service for our nation.”

The annual award given by NALEO for outstanding public service is named the Edward R. Roybal Public Service Award in his honor.

In 2004, Rep. Roybal was recognized as a “Latino Legend of the 20th Century” by the Mexican-American Political Association.



Published: Nov. 13, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 31