Jackie Robinson’s family home in Stamford, Connecticut had a den with trophies, artifacts, and a large scrapbook commemorating her many accomplishments. David Robinson, his son, fondly recalled in an interview how one wall held pictures and plaques depicting his father’s success in sport. Another wall – with a collection twice as large – highlighted her father’s social activism, something of far greater significance to Jackie Robinson and her family.
The philosophy evoked in this lair, emphasizing social activism rather than sport, is continued, along with many of the same artifacts, in a new museum in Lower Manhattan dedicated to the legacy of one of the figures most important in American history.
The new Jackie Robinson Museum – New York’s first museum largely dedicated to the civil rights movement – held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday and will open to the public on September 5, allowing visitors to soak up the legacy of Robinson and his widow, Rachel, in a much larger and modernized version of the family home, with the same spirit of using sport as a vehicle for social progress.
“But the collection is a thousand times bigger,” said David Robinson, who lives in Tanzania but was in New York for his mother’s birthday and the opening of the museum. “Some of the things we grew up with now have huge historical significance, and the museum is a place where anyone can see that, and so much more. It will be a marvel of modern information dissemination.
Rachel Robinson, who turned 100 last week, cut the ribbon for an institution she had long envisioned as a center for people to experience the courageous work her husband has done, hand in hand with her, to help transform American society through the integration of Major League Baseball and many other businesses.
Jackie Robinson, who had been a young star with the Kansas City Monarchs in the black leagues, broke the color barrier into the white major leagues on April 15, 1947, when he made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League. He immediately became a symbol of hope for racial equality in the United States, but as visitors to the museum will discover, Robinson’s tireless work to break down barriers began long before that. And the work continued long after he retired as a player after the 1956 season.
Visitors will see that while Robinson was in the army during World War II, he successfully lobbied for black soldiers to be allowed to attend an officer training program, which he completed in 1943 and emerged as a second lieutenant. They will learn how, after retiring from baseball, Robinson broke barriers in advertising, broadcasting and business, how he started a bank to help black citizens, so often excluded from basic loans, secure their capital .
They will also be inspired, museum organizers hope, by his and Rachel’s work alongside many stalwarts of the civil rights movement, including the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Whitney Young, people David Robinson remembers. remembers visiting with her parents at the Stamford home.
“It was such an important period in history that the museum encapsulates,” said David Robinson. “If we don’t remember that struggle, we lose touch with an important period in American history that can guide us today and it’s a tribute to all the people who took the desire from my mother and realized it.”
One such person is Della Britton, the tireless President and CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a nonprofit created by Rachel Robinson to continue her husband’s legacy through education and scholarship. universities for 242 students each year.
The museum has already begun online programs with schools across the country and, in line with Rachel Robinson’s ultimate goal, hopes to become a beacon that will encourage and support the next wave of leaders in the fight for social justice.
“When we first took on this mission to build the museum for the first time, Rachel said to me, ‘I don’t want it to just be a sanctuary for Jack, I want it to be a place that brings people together and continues the dialogue around the most difficult problems. problem of our society, then and now, which is race relations,” Britton said. “That’s what has kept me here for the past 18 years. And as we have evolved politically during this time, it seems even more compelling and important.
Setting up and running the museum has been a challenge. Funding issues dating back to the 2008 financial crisis, followed ultimately by the pandemic and ensuing global supply chain issues, Britton said, forced the museum to delay opening for years. The foundation raised $38 million of the $42 million it sought to build the museum, of which $25 million went to capital investment for construction.
Now the museum is finally ready to open, with 4,500 artifacts and 40,000 historic images. It has over 8,000 square feet of permanent exhibit space in a prime location on the TriBeCa border, and an additional 3,500 square feet for classrooms and a gallery.
A study conducted on behalf of the museum in 2018 estimated between 100,000 and 120,000 visitors a year, Britton said, but the museum is preparing for more, especially since there is currently no other museum like this. here in New York.
“In a town where Lady Liberty welcomes you, there is no other civil rights museum,” Britton said. “It is significant.” The museum has a fascinating collection of artifacts and exhibits that connect Robinson’s athletic success to his pioneering civil rights work. Visitors will be able to see letters he exchanged with Branch Rickey, the Dodgers president and general manager who originally signed Robinson, which reflect their complex relationship.
They can also learn about some of Robinson’s friends and allies, including Ralph Branca, the Dodgers pitcher who was the first teammate to befriend Robinson, and Hank Greenberg, a Jewish Detroit Tigers slugger who experienced anti-Semitism in baseball and was the first opposing player. offer words of support and encouragement to Robinson. There’s an exposition on John Wright, a lesser-known black league pitcher whom Rickey signed three months after signing Robinson. Along with Robinson, Wright suffered devastating racist abuse in the minor leagues. He eventually returned to the Homestead Grays without having had the chance to break into the Dodgers.
The museum also obtained a uniform and bat that Robinson used in 1947, his Rookie of the Year award, his 1949 National League Most Valuable Player award, his original Hall of Fame plaque, his Presidential Medal of Freedom and many other items.
Each day, an e-tape brand will offer a question of the day to visitors and school groups to generate conversations about the race.
“It could be something like, ‘Was Colin Kaepernick right to kneel during the national anthem? “Said Britton. “The idea is to start a conversation and make people think.
Britton and family hosted the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, and guests included trailblazing tennis star Billie Jean King; filmmaker Spike Lee; Eric Holder, former United States Attorney General; former players CC Sabathia and Willie Randolph; and John Branca, board member and nephew of Ralph Branca.
During a recent visit, Britton highlighted many unique features of the museum, including a three-dimensional Ebbets field that highlights where many of Robinson’s accomplishments took place, but also things like the stand of hot dogs where Rachel Robinson warmed bottles of milk for Jackie Robinson, Jr., their eldest son, who died in 1971.
David Robinson, who was born in 1952, was too young to remember his father’s playing days. His fondest memories revolve around family dinners, fishing trips and especially golf, where David loved to caddy for his father.
“We played where we could, in a segregated and discriminatory Connecticut,” David recalls. “He could only be a guest of a European at these golf clubs. But we traveled to the Caribbean, to Spain. It was great fun to be there.
Other important memories include home rallies with other civil rights leaders and lively discussions about ways to improve the lives of millions of Americans – the central theme the museum strives to convey. In this way, David, his sister Sharon and their mother believe that Jackie Robinson would have seen the museum as an important extension of a common heritage.
“Very rarely would he say, ‘I’,” recalls David Robinson. “He said, ‘We’ve done great things.’ But I think he would love to have his accomplishments presented in terms of American evolution, to try to inspire action today.