Rachel Robinson on Her Late Husband Jackie’s Legacy, Race and Baseball

February 19, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Sportscaster Len Berman talks to Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s widow, about the baseball icon and the foundation that she started in his honor.

Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play Major League Baseball, a milestone in U.S. history that preceded the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

“We never thought of it as [creating history],” said his widow Jackie Robinson. “From the very beginning, we called it a social experiment…we were trying something new that needed to be done in the society and it wasn’t so much about Jackie Robinson, he was the instrument.”

According to Robinson, Branch Rickey, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, shared their goal of societal change. “He was…a seriously committed person who wanted to see change take place and he wanted to be part of it,” she said when asked if perhaps he had signed Jackie to sell more tickets or attract African-American baseball fans.

“It was wonderful to work with him because of his attitude,” Robinson said, “and because it was not just, you know, ‘Let’s make a little more money or let’s give me a little more glory,’ it had to do with changing the society.”

During Jackie Robinson’s tenure with the Dodgers, it was not just ballpark taunters jeering him, the couple faced racism both on the field and off. “There were places during that time, particularly in the south where we went for spring training, where we couldn’t be seated to eat or we had to worry about our accommodations,” Rachel Robinson said. “For us it was a challenge..we had to meet this challenge and we had to do something about it.”

Jackie Robinson’s entry into baseball was featured in the recent movie “42,” which Rachel Robinson described as both authentic and inspiring. The movie also rekindled interest in The Jackie Robinson Foundation, which she founded in 1973. The foundation provides college scholarships along with mentoring and other support services and has assisted 1,400 students since its inception.

Robinson also voiced concern about the decreasing number of African-Americans in baseball. “The fact that we haven’t been able to identify and attract African-Americans is a problem…and it’s not just in baseball, it’s in the professions,” she said, while also expressing hope that while the job is not done, we’re poised to make some big steps forward.

For more information about the Library of Congress material used in this segment, please click here.