A Talk with Sharon Robinson
Jackie Robinson's daughter on the baseball great's legacy
|Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson. In the background is a photo of Jackie Robinson with Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo: Jim McKnight/AP Images)|
Sharon Robinson is the daughter of baseball great Jackie Robinson. She recently spoke with Scholastic News about the 60th anniversary year of her father breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Check out what she had to say:
Scholastic News: Tell us about your earliest memories of your father. What kind of dad was he?
Sharon Robinson: My strongest memory comes from my home in Stamford [Connecticut] . . . There was a long lake on it and every winter that lake would freeze. My friends and brothers and I were not allowed to go ice-skating until my father tested the ice. It was a big production getting him out of the house.
We’d follow him down and stand on the bank. My father would go stand on the ice. He would go out using his shovel and broomstick. He would tap the ice with the broomstick to test its safety and depth. We would just be cheering on the sidelines.
He would get to the deepest part and tap the ice. As long as it didn’t give way under his weight, he would say ‘OK go get your skates.’
It became a metaphor for who he was as a man . . . that he would be willing to step out and take a risk for something that was important to his family, to his people or to the country.
What I remember most growing up was our dinner table conversations. When he left baseball, I was 6 years old. He started traveling south because the civil rights movement was heating up.
He raised money for the NAACP and also participated in marches and met with people like Dr. King and other leaders at the time. He would come home and share stories with family so we would be brought in to what was going on.
As a family we started doing fundraisers for the civil rights movement. Our first fundraiser was in 1963 after the March on Washington, which my family went to, to raise money for Dr. King.
My father and mother wanted us as a family to be part of changing America. They wanted to play a role even though we lived north and a lot of what we were hearing about was happening in the South. They wanted it to be part of our family and be part of our family legacy . . . We carried it on even after he died.
SN: What impact did breaking the color barrier in baseball have on society as a whole?
Robinson: Baseball was the national pastime.
You’re coming on out of Word War II where black soldiers fought for freedom in Europe and came back to a country where they were not allowed to vote, couldn’t go to the schools they wanted to; they couldn’t live where they wanted to live. There were all sorts of restrictions on their movement and freedom. The pressure was on to change and break down Jim Crow laws coming out of the war.
After my father played for the first two or three years, you see him gradually becoming more verbal about any injustice, whether it was a play that was called wrong by an umpire, my father was one of the first to go up and say ‘that is the wrong call.’ He was more the outspoken person he would be normally.
He was an advocate for justice. He was an activist. He was outspoken against Jim Crow laws and racial injustice in America. He spoke out whenever he could. He marched alongside the civil rights activists . . . whatever the issue was, my father was right beside them.
He was forcing people in power to examine what they were doing so it prompted justice and equality for all people.
SN: You’ve quoted Jesse Jackson as saying of your father that “A champion wins a World Series or an Olympic event and is hoisted on the shoulders of teammates and fans. A hero carries the people on his shoulders.’’ What does that mean to you?
Robinson: We have lots of examples of athletes who were outstanding athletes but did nothing to make the world better, nothing to make their communities better. Those people aren’t as remembered in history as those who really impacted the lives of other people.
It’s as true today as it was in the past. Many athletes today are tremendous athletes as well as giving people. They will be remembered long after those who were just good sluggers.
Interview by Elena Cabral
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