Jack Roosevelt Robinson (January 31, 1919-October 24, 1972) the first African American to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball and one of the superstars of the post-war era. Jackie Robinson not only made any impact on baseball but became a part of a great legacy: A pioneer of human dignity and champion of civil rights on the movements most turbulent periods.
Jackie Robinson was a cousin who truly inspired me that with God nothing is Impossible, just believe in Yourself and persevere and never say never.
One of his famous quotes that we all should live by is “Life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives.” I am often asked how are we related: (Jackie’s mother Mallie McGriff Robinson and my paternal grandmother Eliza McGriff Walden were two brothers’ children. Washington McGriff was Mallie’s dad and George McGriff was Eliza’s dad).
The youngest of five children, Jackie was born January 19, 1919 in Cairo. His mother, Mallie McGriff Robinson, moved the family to Pasadena, California for a better life when Jackie was 18 months old after his father abandoned the family.
During the early years, Jackie learned courage and persuasion early. He was an all-American football player and at UCLA became the first four sport letterman (Black or white) exemplifying the best in football, baseball, basketball and track. During World War II, Jackie was drafted in the U.S. Army. He served three years and earned the rank of second lieutenant. In 1944, Jackie was court martialed and given a dishonorable discharge when He refused to sit at the back of the bus, being falsely accused of sitting next to a white woman, who was actually a fair-complexioned black woman. Jackie Robinson went to court and proved himself innocent and was given an honorable discharge. Jackie was a spark in the beginning of the civil rights movement.
After his discharge from the Army, he plated shortstop for one year with the Kansas City Monarchs of the American Negro Baseball League. In 1946 his career took an historic turn in what became know as the Great Noble Experiment. Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Jackie Robinson to the Montreal Royals in 1946. Jackie led the International League with a .349 batting average.
During the same year, Jackie married his first love, Rachel Isum, and to this union three children were born: Jackie Jr. (deceased 1971), David and Sharon. In 1947 Mr. Rickey boldly moved Jackie, age 28, into the lineup with the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
Jackie stood the test under extreme pressure and was highly regarded for his quiet courage in the face of open hostility and resentment. He paved the road for thousands of African American athletes in baseball and other professional sports.
Jackie was named Rookie of the Year in 1947. In 1949, he won the MVP (Most Valuable Player) Award. During his 10-year career, the Dodgers went to the World Series six times, winning the championship in 1955. Jackie was not just a phenomenal athlete, but a leader in the struggle for Civil Rights, a politician and businessman.
During his lifetime in New York, He served as special assistant to Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. Jackie established the first African American modern bank, Freedom National Bank. In 1970, Jackie founded the Jackie Robinson Construction Corp. to provide affordable housing for the underprivileged. In 1962, Jackie Robinson was Inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
In the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Jesse Owens won the gold medal as the fastest runner in the world and it was Jackie Robinson’s brother Matthew” Mack” Robinson (July 18, 1914-March 12, 2000) who won the silver medal.
Also born in Cairo. Uncle Mack married Delano Hadley Robinson (my mother Lula Hadley Walden’s sister ) from Thomasville and they have six children. The family resides in Pasadena, CA.
Uncle Mack told me the story how he had beat Jesse in all the preliminaries and had worn his track shoes out by the time of the day of competition. He stated back in 1936 they did not have sponsors like they do now to make sure you were provided the best for competition.
Jackie was the first African American in sports to be honored by the minting of a U.S. gold and silver coin that was endorsed by President Bill Clinton. His widow Rachel and daughter Sharon continue his legacy and in 1972 established the Jackie Robinson Foundation in New York, providing numerous scholarships to youth around the U.S.
He has been honored with a U.S. postage stamp. Nine thousand articles have been written all over the U.S. since January 1997 commemorating his 50 anniversary of his being the first African American to break baseball’s color barrier. Currently the Jackie Robinson Foundation is raising funds for a lasting tribute to Jackie and that is The Jackie Robinson Museum in New York. While they have raised some funds they still have $25 million to raise and your tax deductible contributions can be made to: The Jackie Robinson Foundation 75 Varick St. NY, NY 10013. It will be a joy for Rachel, his widow, who has worked so hard for many years to keep his legacy alive to see this become a reality. She is in her 90s.
Upon opening my medical practice, Cairo Family Medical Center, PC, the fall of 1996, I was surprised that many of my pediatric patients had never heard of America’s baseball legend Jackie Robinson and what he did in America to open doors of opportunity for so many African Americans. I wanted them to know that great peopl that look like them have come from little towns like Cairo. I felt it necessary to established the Jackie Robinson Cairo Memorial Institute, Inc and began Youth Leadership Institute directed by the Honorable W. Louis Sands from Albany. We wanted to commemorate his great contribution to society and because Jackie was a role model for youth keeping his memory alive, enhancing leadership skills in our youth giving scholarships and encouraging them to excel.
We had several concerts and banquets with special guest as speakers, Stedman Graham of Chicago (Oprah Winfrey’s partner), Dr. Bobby Jones and Nashville Super Choir performed in concert, and U.S. Senator Max Cleland, just to name a few. In 1997, I was successful in renaming Highway 93 the “Jackie Robinson Memorial Highway” and then Governor Zell Miller accepted my invitation as keynote speaker for the highway dedication. A Georgia historical marker was placed at the family homesite.
Over the years we have had The Jackie Robinson Essay Contest and will commemorate Jackie breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. With the support of Cairo and Grady County, signs were erected in city noting “Cairo, the Birthplace of Jackie Robinson.” Cairo High School renamed its baseball field the Jackie Robinson Field.
In 1998, I was invited to Atlanta Braves Games to celebrate the Jackie Robinson Day ceremony, when Jackie was Inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame posthumously, to receive his plaque. It was an exciting day honoring Jackie Robinson and an honor to meet the “Home Run King of Baseball” Hank Aaron. Mr. Aaron shared with me his gratitude and appreciation to Jackie Robinson for whom he stated “was his hero who opened the doors of opportunity for Blacks to Major League Baseball that he will never forget!” Sadly, Mr. Aaron passed away recently. He too was a legend who truly made a positive impact on the lives of so many others. He lasting legacy will continue on in the lives of many youth he has helped to achieve their goals in life.
In December 2009, the Cairo-Grady County community established The Jackie Robinson Boys and Girls Club for our youth ages 6-16 to increase academic performance in school, build character and teach critical decision-making skills. It is directed by Mr. Stephen Francis.
Jackie Robinson is the first and only native from Cairo/Grady County to have been so honored with the accolades mentioned.
Jackie Robinson’s contributions to society are Unprecedented. Happy birthday cousin Jackie, Georgia’s native son!!!! You may be gone but never forgotten. Your legacy will live one.
Linda I. Walden, M.D., FAAFP
Cousin of the late Jackie Robinson
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