Yesterday the MLB came together for Jackie Robinson Day. Players, coaches, and managers all wore number 42 (which was officially retired from the league in 1997) and Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, was honored in Yankee stadium before the team’s game against the Angels. And as America’s favorite pastime celebrated one of its best players, the country also celebrated a man who bravely broke racial lines for the love of his sport.
When President Ronald Regan posthumously awarded Jackie Robinson with the Presidential Award of Freedom, he praised him for striking “a mighty blow for equality, freedom and the American way of life.” And even today Robinson is still celebrated as a hero in the civil rights movement.
But when Robinson came to Harvard on Monday, April 24, 1950, he did not come to discuss race relations or the still-applicable “Separate but Equal” standard. No, Robinson came to talk about what he did. He came to talk about baseball.
Robinson came to speak about his success in college sports, his decision to pursue baseball at the professional level, and his tips for bolstering the faltering Harvard team. A Crimson article about the event also promised that Robinson would “give some hints to college baseball stars with big league aspirations.”
In 1972, when Robinson died, that The Crimson ran another piece on Robinson, describing his life achievements on and off the field. And in 1997, the paper described him as the man “who broke the color barrier.”
But those lucky 100 Harvard students who heard him talk in Emerson Hall back in 1950 were not just there to see the MLB’s first black baseball player. According to a Crimson article, they “turned out to get a look at the National League's batting champion and most valuable player.”
And while the fall of the MLB’s color barrier should never be forgotten, neither should the roar of the crowd when Robinson stole home in the opening game of the 1955 World Series against the New York Yankees.