By Jon Weisman
For Martin Luther King Day, here are some tidbits celebrating the civil rights leader’s connection with Jackie Robinson the Dodgers.
Above is perhaps the most famous photograph of King with Jackie Robinson. This was taken in 1962, five years after King and Robinson simultaneously received honorary doctorates from Howard University (according to Bruce Maruksen of the Hardball Times) and one year before they stood together at the March on Washington, according to this 2013 story by Frank C. Girardot of the Pasadena Star-News.
… “I know all of us are going to go away feeling we cannot turn back,” he told the 100,000 who had come to Washington on that summer day 50 years ago.
It was not the first time Robinson appeared alongside King as an active participant in the struggle for civil rights.
Almost a year earlier, in September 1962, Robinson spoke to the Southern Christian Leadership Council’s annual Freedom Dinner in Birmingham, Alabama. In his nine-page adddress the Dodger great said Americans needed to open their eyes and recognize that a “race problem” existed. …
… Robinson, the man who had experienced horrible instances of racism and discrimination growing up in Pasadena, finished with praise for the man who would express similar words about his dream.
“People used to tell me a lot of things about Dr. King, that he was trying to take over the world, that he was making money on the civil rights issues. I didn’t believe them, of course. I knew this was a dedicated man and that he has made tremendous personal financial sacrifices in the cause. I sort of wondered why people would stoop to talk about him. Then I realized that the world has always talked against great men. The best way to keep from getting talked about is to do nothing.”
This YouTube clip, which if memory serves is from Ken Burns’ work, shows Robinson with King while detailing more of Robinson’s approach to civil rights.
The “Examples of Historical Thinking” series has several pieces on King and Robinson, starting with the clip below.
Even more on the Robinson-King relationship, including the complications that emerged, can be found at Biography.com (click below).
There are several pieces at the King Center connecting Robinson and King. Here’s a letter that Robinson wrote to King in October 1962 after accepting a position with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Here is the start of a piece King wrote about Robinson’s 1962 Hall of Fame induction.
And here’s an invitation to an event to celebrate Dr. King’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, with Robinson on the undercard, so to speak.
King connected with others from the Dodger organization as well. In 1959, King wrote to Branch Rickey to thank him for supporting his book, “Stride Toward Freedom.” An excerpt:
Years later, Don Newcombe shared King’s thoughts about Jackie Robinson for Time magazine:
“Do you know what Jackie’s impact was? Well, let Martin Luther King tell you. In 1968, Martin had dinner in my house with my family. This was 28 days before he was assassinated. He said to me, “Don, I don’t know what I would’ve done without you guys setting up the minds of people for change. You, Jackie, and Roy (Campanella) will never know how easy you made it for me to do my job.” Can you imagine that? How easy we made it for Martin Luther King!
Truly wonderful American heroes.
In the “Boys of Summer” documentary film, some of Robinson’s (white) ex-teammates talk about their regret at being too timid to accept his invitation to join him at the March on Washington. A reminder that progress has its costs.
Talk about heroes, these guys truly did their jobs.