John Ramos interviews Michael G. Long, author of:
42 TODAY: JACKIE ROBINSON AND HIS LEGACY
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson sent seismic waves across America with his barrier-breaking debut in Major League Baseball. He continued to create waves in American culture until his passing in 1972. Always willing to sacrifice his personal comfort and safety for the cause of racial equality and justice, he viewed himself as much an activist as an athlete. And so should we. Jackie Robinson is not just a ballplayer who broke the color line. Jackie Robinson is a civil rights icon who played baseball, and played it superbly.
This spring, an estimable collection of collaborators have come together—filmmakers, writers, journalists, scholars and activists—to celebrate the man behind the number and put the Robinson story in the proper historical and sociological context. In February, we will celebrate the release of42 TODAY: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy, Edited by Michael G. Long, Foreword by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon (New York University Press / Washington Mews Books, February 9, 2021), the new book that will help readers gain fresh insight into Robinson’s life and legacy.
When Robinson took the field for Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, he immediately became baseball’s biggest attraction since Babe Ruth and the conduit for the most significant progress in civil rights since Reconstruction. A man of action, talent and fire, Robinson played in a way that spoke volumes about his deeply held convictions. He was the epitome of aggressive baseball smarts and was ferocious on the base paths. His play was an expression of his strength and courage. He was defiant. Triumphant. Courageous and complex. He endured death threats, pitches thrown at his head, spikes wielded as weapons, taunts from racist crowds, the unrelenting oppression of segregation, and isolation from his fellow players. But Robinson swallowed the insults and barbs and slights and turned them into muscle. Taut and tough muscle carved in the shadow of silent stoicism.
There—at the nexus of sports and American culture and as a black man in a racist society—he felt he had an obligation to use his hard-fought fame to challenge the social and political status quo and help advance the conditions for Black Americans. Having already dedicated his life to service, Robinson realized his responsibility to his race and his country and made sure his voice was heard. And it was.
But America’s original sin endures to this day. The oppressive conditions Jackie Robinson faced across his 53 years—casual and structural—remain as present in society today as they were then. Robinson had hoped to help move America beyond everyday racism before he died far too young. Perhaps he still can.