By Menra Mapfumo
On July 27 in New York, NY, after years of anticipation and fundraising, the Founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the wife of Jackie Robinson, Mrs. Rachel Robinson opened The Jackie Robinson Museum.
The museum will educate visitors by showcasing the life, legacy, and accomplishments of Jackie and Rachel Robinson, and not just their role in transforming America’s pastime, but their social justice activism. The Jackie Robinson Museum is the only Civil Rights museum in New York City.
At 100 years old, Mrs. Robinson herself was there to cut the ribbon herself in front of a crowd of several hundred which included her two remaining children, Sharon and David Robinson, and many of her grandchildren.
Jackie Robinson Foundation CEO Della Britton described what she wants young people to get out of the museum: “We want them to become knowledgeable about Jackie Robinson and Rachel Robinson and their legacy. We want them to be inspired by that. We want them to learn from the challenges Jackie had, from strategies he had for how to create change. Primarily, interested in equal opportunity, interested in economic empowerment. He spent his entire life working to close the achievement gap to get a level playing field. So, we want them to learn the story and then we want them to be inspired to continue the work, and to create a society that is more just.”
Former Attorney General Eric Holder shared how Jackie Robinson inspired him as he grew up: “Jackie Robinson was a hero of mine…Jackie Robinson was the key to my interest in the Brooklyn Dodgers. The first team to integrate. You could not be a young Black man in New York without rooting for the Dodgers. To see this museum, it is the culmination of recognition that I think he deserved. I think this is not only a testament to the past, it is also a call to people to be engaged in the future in the way that Jackie and Rachel want.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams expressed how he felt about the impact Jackie Robinson had on his life: “Just the belief that because something seems impossible, it is possible. We cannot always find the safest pathway. He just inspired me… I was the first Black Borough President and I am the second Black mayor. Going through the challenges of breaking down those barriers, I just think so many of us can look at his story… Other people think it is not possible or doable, but he did it. It is also about partnership. You cannot get away from his love affair with his wonderful wife and even as he transitioned, she continued. That is why this museum is open. That is why the [Jackie Robinson Foundation] is doing well.”
Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark and Vice President of the MLB Players Alliance C.C. Sabathia gave their opinions on what needs to be done to get more African Americans back on the playing field, and as managers and owners.
Clark said, “There is a long answer and a lot of moving pieces to that… As it relates to ownership, as it relates to management, those are decisions that ownership and management are going to have to make…We are hopeful that at some point in time the light will indeed come on and the folks that are making decisions on that side of the equation will appreciate the value of a more diverse ownership group and a more diverse management group…”
Sabathia said, “That is a big issue…That is [The Players Alliance’s] big mission, to get kids back playing. When I was playing, I thought the kids were not playing baseball, but that is not true. Kids are playing baseball at a high clip, especially in our community. We just got to give them more opportunities.”
Sabathia shined a light on Major League Baseball’s development programs like the Hank Aaron Invitational and Elite Development Invitational. Sabathia mentioned some of the players drafted this year that came up through those programs.
He said, “It is just about making [the programs] bigger and expanding and doing a better job of identifying those kids that want to play baseball.”
New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman articulated what the opening of the museum meant to him: “The Yankees were there for the beginning and we have stepped up. [Former Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner] had a great relationship with Rachel Robinson… It means everything. First of all, I did not grow up a Yankee fan. I grew up a Dodger fan so I know the history of Jackie Robinson, the impact he had not only on the game of baseball, but on the world, especially here in America. He was a game changer. We celebrate his life, his impact, and obviously a lot more work to be done. He is a pillar of hope and strength for so many. To remind us of where we were, but also where we need to keep going. It is a pleasure to be here for the opening. It is my trade deadline, but when it is Jackie Robinson you stop everything and come.”
Director Spike Lee, and renowned journalist, biographer and the author of the text on the very walls of the Jackie Robinson Museum, Howard Bryant opined on what most impressed them about the museum and what the opening meant to them.
Lee said, “…This is something that the queen Rachel Robinson wanted for her husband and herself. This is a place where this should be one of the top museums. Not just in New York City. Not just in Washington D.C., but the United States of America. You cannot underestimate the significance, the importance, of Jackie Robinson…April 14, 1947, is a delineation…the day Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and it is one of the greatest days in the history of this country. That is what it means.”
Bryant said, “It means more than I can say… The thing that means most to me is that Rachel is here to see it. To be able to see a vision come through. She’s wanted this for more than 20 years and to be able to see it with your own two eyes, it brings you to tears. It is really special. To me, what I am really impressed about is the dedication of seeing a project through because this was hard to get done. We always say things like ‘Do not talk about it, be about it.’ The number of people who were committed to make this happen, it tells you how important this is and it tells you how when you are really committed to something worthwhile see it through. You fight for it. You make sure that everybody else around you builds you up. This is a testament to… Jackie’s commitment, Rachel’s commitment, to the commitment of everybody who wanted to see this happen and now it is here.”