Originally written on The Baseball Page  |  Last updated 4/16/12

Mention the name Jackie Robinson and most people will remember that he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. But how many know the role he played as a "civil rights advocate"? Monday, January 17th, the nation will "celebrate" Dr.Martin Luther King day. There's a great article written by Miami Herald writer Leonard Pitts in todays paper. Pitts calls MLK "The misunderstood icon". He states "King Day" lacks a defining tradition. I won't go into detail why he fails this way. Read his story. He also points out that young kids in schools today know little about MLK and the early civil rights hero's. They know play-stations, how to download music to their Ipods, and run circles around adults when it comes to mastering computers and the internet. "BUT", ask them to name 6 ciivil rights advocates who went to jail, held sit-ins at restaurants in the deep south, name those who were hosed, beaten and bitten by police attack dogs and kids today would be hard pressed to come up with names.

Sure, first they may name Dr.King. Then maybe Rosa Parks, remember her.? The U.S.Congress called her "The 1st Lady of Ciivil Rights and Mother of the Freedom Movement". On December 1st,1955 Rosa Parks, sitting on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her seat and move to the back to let a "white" person have her seat. That sparked the "Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott" and became the symbol of the modern Ciivil Rights Movement. Long before Rosa Parks defiant act in 1955 a young black Army Lieutenant, serving our country during a time of war, was told "to move to the back of the bus". The scene, Camp Hood,Texas. The bus driver a "white NCO", the man ordered to the "back of the bus" a black Army officer named Jackie Robinson. Robinson refused, was arrested by MP's and court-martialed but later won his case.

The year was 1944. 11 years before Rosa Parks became "the Mother of the Freedom Movement".  Jackie Robinson, proud of being black, challenged racial pretensions throughout his life. As a child he fought with rocks against taunting neighbors; as an adolescent he went to jail for a traffic altercation involving a white motorist; and as a college star in four sports, he took no guff from race-baiting competitors. When he signed with the Dodgers owner Branch Rickey made Robinson promise not to retaliate for 2 years against anyone who shouted  racial slurs at him.. He had to promise to take "all insults" without striking back. Not an easy task for a man with Robinson's pride and sense of fair play. Robinson kept his promise to Branch Rickey, and in the process won the respect and admiration of teammates and fans across this country.

After baseball he continued his fight against racism until the day he died. Robinson died of a heart attack on October 24,1972. He was 53. After his death his wife Rachel created the non-profit Jackie Robinson Foundation. The organization provides college scholarships to minority students. To date there are 259 Jackie Robinson Scholars attending 93 Colleges and Universities. JRF Scholars have maintained a 97 percent graduation rate, more than twice the national average for minorities.When honoring Civil Rights Advocates like Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, add the name Jack Roosevelt Robinson to the top of that list. Sure, he was a great baseball player, an All American college football star, with god given talent that carried him into the center of the National spotlight. But he was much more then that. Jackie Robinson was a "Great Human Being". That's his legacy. Tomorrow, January 17th, a National Holiday honoring Dr.Martin Luther King, also remember an "early civil rights pioneer", who just happened to be a pretty fair second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, "JACKIE ROBINSON". He deserves that recognition.


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