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Astros hosting Civil Rights Game festivities

Roundtable discussion, Beacon Awards, performances mark just a few events

HOUSTON -- When the Astros take the field to face the Orioles on Friday at Minute Maid Park wearing the uniforms of the Houston Eagles -- the only Negro Leagues team from Texas -- it will mark the culmination of events surrounding the annual Civil Rights Game.

Leaders from around baseball, stars in the music industry and those who have championed civil rights will converge on the Bayou City this week for a series of events leading to Friday's eighth Civil Rights Game, which was developed by Major League Baseball to pay tribute to those who fought on and off the field for equal rights for all Americans.

"We made it clear when we got involved a couple of years ago when we bought the team that we were very interested in diversity, and we'd be a big supporter of it," Astros owner Jim Crane said.

The celebration was to begin Thursday at Union Station at Minute Maid Park when a panel of prominent individuals were to discuss the pivotal role baseball played in the civil rights movement and the game's continued presence as a social institution, as well as present-day social issues affecting the country and the world.

The Baseball & Civil Rights Movement Roundtable Discussion, moderated by Harvard Law School professor Dr. Charles Ogletree, will be streamed on and prior to the Civil Rights Game.

The participants included Ernest Green, a member of the "Little Rock Nine"; Linda Alvarado, member of the Rockies' ownership group and CEO of Alvarado Construction; Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum; former Astros pitcher J.R. Richard; and MLB Network analyst and two-time All-Star Harold Reynolds.

"The Roundtable has been very, very successful, because you have different types of personalities there to answer questions that normally wouldn't be answered," said Frank Robinson, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball development.

MLB and the Astros will pay special tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education at the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon, scheduled for noon CT Friday at the Hilton Americas Hotel.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig will speak at the event, which will honor the late best-selling author and poet Dr. Maya Angelou, founder of Motown Records and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Berry Gordy and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown.

The triumvirate will each receive an MLB Beacon Award, which recognizes individuals whose lives and actions have been emblematic of the spirit of the civil rights movement, and they will be recognized on the field prior to the Civil Rights Game.

Angelou died on Wednesday at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., her literary agent and officials in her hometown told multiple news outlets. She was 86.

"I am aware that the Civil Rights Game is Major League Baseball's opportunity to encourage and lead its fans and friends in honoring and remembering a critical time in our nation's history, and I respect the league greatly for recognizing the need for this event," Angelou said last week in a statement. "I am very proud to be one of the MLB Beacon Award honorees, amongst an impressive list of figures that were, and still are, part of the civil rights movement."

Robin Roberts, co-anchor of ABC's "Good Morning America," will be the keynote speaker. Two Houston-based charities -- the Houston Area Urban League and Change Happens! -- will be the charitable beneficiaries of the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon.

The Civil Rights Game coming to Houston is a source of pride for Robinson, who was born in nearby Beaumont.

"It's well-deserved for the organization for what they're doing for diversity," Robinson said. "It's held in honor of those in and out of baseball who fought for equal rights in all America. That's what it's about. It's not just baseball people. It's the people that have pushed for the equal rights program and been involved in it, young and old."

The game between the Astros and the Orioles will air nationally on MLB Network, with Reynolds, Matt Vasgersian and Sam Ryan calling the action. Both teams will wear Negro Leagues throwback uniforms, as the O's will be wearing the uniforms of the Baltimore Elite Giants (1938-49).

The first 15,000 fans to enter Minute Maid Park on Friday will receive a special commemorative Civil Rights Game cap, and the Astros will treat fans to a postgame fireworks show with a Motown theme.

Chart-topping singer Aloe Blacc will perform his hit songs "Wake Me Up" and "The Man" on the field at Minute Maid Park prior to the Civil Rights Game, with the "The Man" airing live on MLB Network. Additionally, he will perform "Eyes of a Child" earlier in the day at the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon at Hilton Americas Houston.

Grammy Award-winning violinist and UN Goodwill Ambassador Miri Ben-Ari will perform her song "Symphony of Brotherhood," featuring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his iconic "I Have A Dream" speech, at the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon.

The national anthem will be sang by Jadagrace prior to the game, and Grammy nominee Jeffrey Osborne will sing "America the Beautiful" during the seventh-inning stretch.

The Civil Rights Game began in Memphis, Tenn., in 2007, centering on an exhibition game between the Cardinals and Indians. After another exhibition game in Memphis in '08, the Civil Rights Game moved to Cincinnati ('09-10), then Atlanta ('11-12) as regular-season contests, and last year was hosted in Chicago by the White Sox.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.
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