Jackie and Rachel Robinson – Black History Month Profile
Black History Month 2020
Jackie and Rachel Robinson
Throughout America, Jackie Robinson is known as an African American icon and one of the greatest athletes to have ever lived. His life has been memorialized in several movies, countless books, and has served as a source of inspiration in light of continued racism and discrimination in our country.
Born in 1919 in Cairo, Georgia to a family of sharecroppers, Jackie Robinson ascended to the status of a cultural icon when he became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) in the modern era. Baseball, the most popular sport in the country at the time, was strictly segregated but Robinson broke the baseball “color line” in April 1947 when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Prior to his illustrious baseball career, Robinson was an NCAA National Champion in track and field (long jump), and the first student-athlete at UCLA to win varsity letters in four sports (baseball, basketball, football and track). He even served in the United States Army during World War II and was among a handful of African Americans admitted to Officer Candidate School (OCS). Robinson’s military career was ultimately derailed by a racist incident when he refused to move to the back of an unsegregated bus. He was court-martialed and charged with multiple offenses including public drunkenness, even though Robinson did not drink. He was eventually acquitted but never saw combat during World War II, he was honorably discharged and went on to work in sports before eventually playing in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs.
When it was all said and done, Robinson was a 6-time MLB all-star, a World Series Champion, National League MVP, and was the first African American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His number, 42, has been retired by all MLB teams, and will never be worn again. His steadfast character, non-violent demeanor in the face of rampant racism, and seemingly unmatched athletic ability challenged America’s traditional segregated class system.
While Robinson is known by most for his landmark athletic achievements, he and his wife, Rachel Robinson, were lifelong trailblazers. Jackie and Rachel have made as significant an impact on African American life in America as almost any other family in history.
Rachel, born in Los Angeles, California in 1922 met Jackie on the campus of UCLA in 1941. The two were married in 1946 and had three children over the next several years. Following Jackie’s retirement from professional baseball, Rachel pursued a career in nursing, obtaining a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing from New York University. She worked as a researcher and clinician before becoming an Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Nursing and went on to serve as the Director of Nursing at the Connecticut Mental Health Center.
In addition to their respective careers, Jackie and Rachel were instrumental in various initiatives that furthered the prospects of African Americans around the country. Jackie was the first black analyst for ABC’s MLB Game of the Week telecasts, was active in national politics and became very involved in the civil rights movement almost immediately after his retirement from professional baseball. He served on the NAACP Board for a decade, became the first black person to serve as Vice-President of a major American corporation (Chock full o’Nuts), and even helped found Freedom National Bank, a black-owned and operated commercial bank in based in Harlem. Robinson also established the Jackie Robison Construction Company which built housing for low-income families. Until his death in 1972, Robinson was a steadfast supporter of civil rights and an activist for black rights and representation.
Following her husband’s death in 1972, Rachel incorporated the Jackie Robinson Development Corporation, a real estate development company that specialized in low- to moderate-income housing. Just a year later, she founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation to honor her husband, the organization, which still exists today, provides scholarships to minority youth for higher education. Rachel earned a dozen honorary doctorates for her work to promote racial equity and has received countless awards for her service to the black community. She continues to represent Jackie through numerous endeavors including the Foundation.
The Emma L. Bowen Community Service Center is please to honor Jackie and Rachel Robinson for all their achievements on behalf of the African American community.