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Jackie Robinson would have been 100 yesterday: Images of One of Baseball’s Finest

JACKIE Robinson, one of the most famous Americans, would have been 100 years old yesterday, January 31. The baseball legend had a son, David, who is said to live in Tanzania. Really? Do we know this?

David Robinson, has six children, is a coffee grower and social activist in Tanzania? Can this be real? Jackie Robinson is virtually mystical and to have his kin living with us here in East Africa. Unbelievable. This calls for a search in Bongo (Tanzania) to find out how crazy this is. That grandest of American history lives with us next door.

The New York Times just issued 100 photos, “remembering Jackie Robinson; Images of one of baseball’s finest.”

In the American folklore, on April 15, 1947, a Black man stepped onto Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field to reverse a wrong in pro sports that had lasted 63 years and had been bolstered by racial injustices that permeated the culture of America in all corners. That day, Jackie Robinson stepped out of the dugout to become the first Black man to play on a Major League Baseball [MLB] team since catcher Moses Fleetwood Walker wore the uniform of the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884.

Having moved from playing with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues in 1945 to signing with the Montreal Royals of the International League in 1946, Jackie Robinson was ready to face the anger, discord and ultimately heroism of playing in a White league that the country wanted to keep segregated.

But the abuse he faced from fans, the other teams and even his own teammates did not deter him. He played 151 games his first season, batted .297 and was MLB’s first ever Rookie of the Year. The next year he was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. After that, he became the Brooklyn Dodgers’ most highly paid player, earning a salary of $35,000. In 1955, Robinson played a critical role in helping the Dodgers defeat the New York Yankees to win the World Series. He retired in 1956 with a career average of .311, 1,518 hits and 137 home runs.

“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being,” he was once quoted as saying.

Robinson endured racial venom with stoicism and proved a genius on the base paths in Brooklyn Dodger white. “For sociological impact,” The Times declared in Robinson’s 1972 obituary, he was “perhaps America’s most significant athlete.”

Jackie Robinson was the man who, born 100 years ago, successfully took on the challenge of transforming baseball and, by extension, the entire country by becoming the first African-American to play in the modern era. By stepping onto a major league diamond as a Brooklyn Dodger 72 years ago, he allowed a sport that thought of itself as the national pastime to finally be just that.

What Robinson did, what he stood for, what he conveyed not only to black America, but to all of America, has resonated with Americans and widely in world as long as one can remember, and nothing else played as big a role in fueling desire by the underprivileged to chase their dreams of equality. For Baseball and the Country, and the world Jackie Robinson changed a lot.

Jackie Robinson hovered over that game, and he has hovered over every game that has been played since April 15, 1947, when he made his major-league debut.

He upgraded the game, and he upgraded my Brooklyn Dodgers, and he upgraded life in America in his 10 years in the major leagues and in his short but active career out in the Real World, pushing for opportunities for black people in all businesses.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson, the man (January 31, 1919 – October 24, 1972):

He became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) in the modern era. Robinson broke the baseball colour line when the Brooklyn Dodgers started him at first base on April 15, 1947. When the Dodgers signed Robinson, they heralded the end of racial segregation in professional baseball that had relegated black players to the Negro leagues since the 1880s. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

Family and personal life

Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, into a family of sharecroppers in Cairo, Georgia. He was the youngest of five children born to Mallie (McGriff) and Jerry Robinson, after siblings Edgar, Frank, Matthew (nicknamed “Mack”), and Willa Mae. His middle name was in honour of former President Theodore Roosevelt, who died 25 days before Robinson was born. After Robinson’s father left the family in 1920, they moved to Pasadena, California.

The extended Robinson family established itself on a residential plot containing two small houses at 121 Pepper Street in Pasadena. Robinson’s mother worked various odd jobs to support the family. Growing up in relative poverty in an otherwise affluent community, Robinson and his minority friends were excluded from many recreational opportunities. As a result, Robinson joined a neighborhood gang, but his friend Carl Anderson persuaded him to abandon it.

High School:

In 1935, Robinson graduated from Washington Junior High School and enrolled at John Muir High School (Muir Tech). Recognizing his athletic talents, Robinson’s older brothers Mack (himself an accomplished athlete and silver medalist at the 1936 Summer Olympics)[ and Frank inspired Jackie to pursue his interest in sports.

 

At Muir Tech, Robinson played several sports at the varsity level and lettered in four of them: football, basketball, track, and baseball. He played shortstop and catcher on the baseball team, quarterback on the football team, and guard on the basketball team. With the track and field squad, he won awards in the broad jump. He was also a member of the tennis team.

In 1936, Robinson won the junior boys singles championship in the annual Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament and earned a place on the Pomona annual baseball tournament all-star team, which included future Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bob Lemon. In late January 1937, the Pasadena Star-News newspaper reported that Robinson “for two years has been the outstanding athlete at Muir, starring in football, basketball, track, baseball and tennis.

College:

After Muir, Robinson attended Pasadena Junior College (PJC), where he continued his athletic career by participating in basketball, football, baseball, and track. On the football team, he played quarterback and safety. He was a shortstop and leadoff hitter for the baseball team, and he broke school broad-jump records held by his brother Mack.

As at Muir High School, most of Jackie’s teammates were white. While playing football at PJC, Robinson suffered a fractured ankle, complications from which would eventually delay his deployment status while in the military. In 1938, he was elected to the All-Southland Junior College Team for baseball and selected as the region’s Most Valuable Player.

That year, Robinson was one of 10 students named to the school’s Order of the Mast and Dagger (Omicron Mu Delta), awarded to students performing “outstanding service to the school and whose scholastic and citizenship record is worthy of recognition.” Also while at PJC, he was elected to the Lancers, a student-run police organization responsible for patrolling various school activities.

An incident at PJC illustrated Robinson’s impatience with authority figures he perceived as racist—a character trait that would resurface repeatedly in his life. On January 25, 1938, he was arrested after vocally disputing the detention of a black friend by police. Robinson received a two-year suspended sentence, but the incident—along with other rumored run-ins between Robinson and police—gave Robinson a reputation for combativeness in the face of racial antagonism.

While at PJC, he was motivated by a preacher (the Rev. Karl Downs) to attend church on a regular basis, and Downs became a confidant for Robinson, a Christian. Toward the end of his PJC tenure, Frank Robinson (to whom Robinson felt closest among his three brothers) was killed in a motorcycle accident. The event motivated Jackie to pursue his athletic career at the nearby University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he could remain closer to Frank’s family.

 

UCLA and afterward:

After graduating from PJC in spring 1939, Robinson enrolled at UCLA, where he became the school’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track. He was one of four black players on the Bruins’ 1939 football team; the others were Woody Strode, Kenny Washington, and Ray Bartlett. Washington, Strode, and Robinson made up three of the team’s four backfield players. At a time when only a few black students played mainstream college football, this made UCLA college football’s most integrated team. They went undefeated with four ties at 6–0–4.

In track and field, Robinson won the 1940 NCAA championship in the long jump at 24 ft 10 14 in (7.58 m). Belying his future career, Robinson’s “worst sport” at UCLA was baseball; he hit .097 in his only season, although in his first game he went 4-for-4 and twice stole home.

While a senior at UCLA, Robinson met his future wife, Rachel Isum (b.1922), a UCLA freshman who was familiar with Robinson’s athletic career at PJC. He played football as a senior, but the 1940 Bruins won only one game. In the spring, Robinson left college just shy of graduation, despite his mother’s and Isum’s reservations. He took a job as an assistant athletic director with the government’s National Youth Administration (NYA) in Atascadero, California.

Robinson once told future Hall of Fame inductee Hank Aaron that “the game of baseball is great, but the greatest thing is what you do after your career is over.” Robinson retired from baseball at age 37 on January 5, 1957. Later that year, after he complained of numerous physical ailments, he was diagnosed with diabetes, a disease that also afflicted his brothers. Although Robinson adopted an insulin injection regimen, the state of medicine at the time could not prevent the continued deterioration of Robinson’s physical condition from the disease.

In his first year of eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, Robinson encouraged voters to consider only his on-field qualifications, rather than his cultural impact on the game. He was elected on the first ballot, becoming the first black player inducted into the Cooperstown museum.

On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired his uniform number, 42, alongside those of Roy Campanella (39) and Sandy Koufax (32). From 1957 to 1964, Robinson was the vice president for personnel at Chock full o’Nuts; he was the first black person to serve as vice president of a major American corporation.

Robinson always considered his business career as advancing the cause of black people in commerce and industry. Robinson also chaired the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) million-dollar Freedom Fund Drive in 1957, and served on the organization’s board until 1967. In 1964, he helped found, with Harlem businessman Dunbar McLaurin, Freedom National Bank—a black-owned and operated commercial bank based in Harlem. He also served as the bank’s first chairman of the board. In 1970, Robinson established the Jackie Robinson Construction Company to build housing for low-income families.

 

Politics:

Robinson was active in politics throughout his post-baseball life. He identified himself as a political independent,[ although he held conservative opinions on several issues, including the Vietnam War (he once wrote to Martin Luther King, Jr. to defend the Johnson Administration’s military policy). After supporting Richard Nixon in his 1960 presidential race against John F. Kennedy, Robinson later praised Kennedy effusively for his stance on civil rights.

Robinson was angered by conservative Republican opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, though a higher percentage of Democrats voted against it in both the House and Senate. He became one of six national directors for Nelson Rockefeller’s unsuccessful campaign to be nominated as the Republican candidate for the 1964 presidential election.

 

After the party nominated Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona instead, Robinson left the party’s convention commenting that he now had “a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany”. He later became special assistant for community affairs when Rockefeller was re-elected governor of New York in 1966. Switching his allegiance to the Democrats, he subsequently supported Hubert Humphrey against Nixon in 1968.

Family life and death:

After Robinson’s retirement from baseball, his wife Rachel Robinson pursued a career in academic nursing. She became an assistant professor at the Yale School of Nursing and director of nursing at the Connecticut Mental Health Center.

She also served on the board of the Freedom National Bank until it closed in 1990. She and Jackie had three children: Jackie Robinson Jr. (1946–1971), Sharon Robinson (b. 1950), and David Robinson (b. 1952).

Robinson’s eldest son, Jackie Robinson Jr., had emotional trouble during his childhood and entered special education at an early age. He enrolled in the Army in search of a disciplined environment, served in the Vietnam War, and was wounded in action on November 19, 1965. After his discharge, he struggled with drug problems. Robinson Jr. eventually completed the treatment program at Daytop Village in Seymour, Connecticut, and became a counselor at the institution. On June 17, 1971, he was killed in an automobile accident at age 24. The experience with his son’s drug addiction turned Robinson Sr. into an avid anti-drug crusader toward the end of his life.

Robinson did not long outlive his son. Complications from heart disease and diabetes weakened Robinson and made him almost blind by middle age. On October 24, 1972, nine days after his appearance at the World Series, Robinson died of a heart attack at his home on 95 Cascade Road in North Stamford, Connecticut; he was 53 years old.

Robinson’s funeral service on October 27, 1972, at Upper Manhattan’s Riverside Church adjacent to Grant’s Tomb in Morningside Heights, attracted 2,500 mourners. Many of his former teammates and other famous baseball players served as pallbearers, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson gave the eulogy.

Tens of thousands of people lined the subsequent procession route to Robinson’s interment site at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, where he was buried next to his son Jackie and mother-in-law Zellee Isum. Twenty-five years after Robinson’s death, the Interboro Parkway was renamed the Jackie Robinson Parkway in his memory. This parkway bisects the cemetery in close proximity to Robinson’s gravesite.

After Robinson’s death, his widow founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and she remains an officer as of 2018. On April 15, 2008, she announced that in 2010 the foundation will be opening a museum devoted to Jackie in Lower Manhattan. Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, became a midwife, educator, director of educational programming for MLB, and the author of two books about her father. His youngest son, David, who has six children, is a coffee grower and social activist in Tanzania.

Additional reporting from Wikipedia

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