By Melanie Eversley
NABJ Black News & Views
NEW YORK – Hundreds of people packed onto a Lower Manhattan street Monday to celebrate a new museum honoring late athlete and civil rights activist Jackie Robinson.
Under bright sunlight, Robinson’s window Rachel, who just celebrated her 100th birthday, cut the ribbon for the 20,000-square-foot Jackie Robinson Museum, culminating work that she began in 2008. The museum honors the legacy of No. 42, as the late Robinson has come to be known after his assigned Brooklyn Dodgers number.
Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball when he joined the Dodgers in 1947 and was active in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1942, while he was in the Army, he refused to move to the back of a civilian bus in Texas and was court martialed before being acquitted. When he tried out for the Boston Red Sox, neither the manager nor players showed up. Once he joined the Dodgers, he collected a parade of awards, including MVP and Rookie of the Year.
Robinson died of a heart attack in 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut.
Tuesday’s event drew dignitaries from filmmaker Spike Lee to tennis great Billie Jean King. Robinson’s son explained the importance of the opening.
“The Jackie Robinson Museum is the realization of a dream for my family,” said David Robinson, son of the baseball legend. “My mother has long hoped for a permanent space where people learn about the issues my father cared deeply about and the change he fought hard to affect.”
Robinson added, “We hope the museum will be a place to not only learn about his time in baseball and love of sports, but about all that he did to contribute to social progress. We expend our deepest appreciation to everyone who helped make this dream a reality.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams referenced the American Dream while hailing the opening of the museum and Rachel Robinson’s diligence toward making it happen.
“This man and wife took that dream and forced America and baseball to say you’re not going to be a dream on paper, you’re going to be a dream in life,” Adams said. “We are greater because of No. 42 and because he had an amazing wife who understood that dream and vision.”
The 4,500-item collection includes his 1956 NAACP Spingarn Medal, a Dodgers uniform, his 1962 plaque from the Baseball Hall of Fame and his 1984 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Major donors include the estate of Michael Jackson, Hess, Nike, the New York Yankees, Major League Baseball, the New York Mets, owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Sheila C. Johnson Foundation and more.
Rachel Robinson also founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 1973. The nonprofit funds four-year scholarships and work opportunities for promising young people in need.