Jackie Robinson’s legacy will ultimately live and rest with the love of his life Rachel, who stayed by his side throughout his entire life, and his dear children for whom he lived to be a hero.
“By late 1947, Americans named the black infielder the astonishing second most popular man in the country. He was widely celebrated for his courage, humility, sportsmanship, and for being a fine family man” (80, Schultz).
There is always a woman behind every great historical figure of integrity. For Jackie Robinson, this woman was unequivocally his wife Rachel, who always helped him replace his shame with pride. The legacy of their relationship will live through history as a great testament to the power of love.
For the final tribute piece of the #JackieRobinson100Legacy series, we honor his wife and children. Through the familial lessons of leadership they have established, we look to them for the future.
Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait
This book is the ultimate inside source to the heartbeat of this man and is an emotional journey through the lens of the woman who knew him best. The greatest component of the book is the generous amount of personal images she is kind enough to share, which connects the private life of one of our country’s greatest pioneers to a public audience.
The Robinson Romance
In the chapter titled, “Roots of a Relationship” she speaks about meeting Jack, as she called him, for the first time. “When we met, I was immediately drawn to him. He was very impressive—a handsome, proud, and serious man with a warm smile and a pigeon-toed walk” (22, Robinson).
Jackie was a star athlete in his senior year of college by the time he met Rachel Isum, yet even as a freshman at UCLA she was impressive in her own right. She was fiercely independent, and in her life she made sure that her focus met her priorities at all times. “For me, getting a degree was my highest priority. I would let nothing interfere with it. Still, our relationship blossomed.”
Speaking of her family’s impression of meeting the star for the first time, “My mother saw the best in him, my father was jealous, and my brothers were in awe” (22, Robinson).
Burden of Burying his First-Born
A difficult, yet important aspect of the legacy of Jackie Robinson is the pain he endured losing his first-born son Jackie Jr. It seems that buried with his body will always be the burden he carried for the one life closest to him that he couldn’t rescue.
In her chapter titled, “Gone Too Soon”, Rachel describes the private pain that she has endured raising children in the spotlight.
Speaking on how her children’s search for identity was further complicated by Jack’s fame as a major league baseball star and pioneer, she says “The challenge had a special impact on Jackie, who, as our first-born son and the bearer of Jack’s name, had shared with us from infancy the bright glare of the public spotlight.”
She mentions how his little brother and sister Sharon and David, who were born four and six years later, “also had to contend with the joy and complications of being the children of a famous parent, but somehow…they acquired strengths Jackie didn’t have” (193, Robinson).
Rachel also speaks on how Jackie may have suffered from a learning disability, and that unfortunately that led to him being more “confused and despairing”. “Jackie was a kind and loving child, but I realized in hindsight, very cautious and too dependent. It’s possible that Jackie’s behavior was affected by an undiagnosed learning disability; he was a very slow reader” (193, Robinson).
“As our firstborn, he had been born before we understood the stress celebrity status could have on families; born before a true understanding of learning problems was widespread; born before the spread of drugs forced greater drug education efforts for parents and their children; born before the ravages of our involvement in Vietnam on the soldiers sent there were even hinted at” (202, Robinson).
“Looking back, I have no doubt that our deep love for our son prompted us to do what we could for him…but the painful truth was, we didn’t know what to do in time to help. Jack felt completely baffled and helpless in the face of Jackie’s growing aloofness. He had worked earnestly at being a good man and father, a man his son could be proud of, and he was tormented by Jackie’s plight” (194, Robinson).
A Brother’s Undying Love
At Jackie Jr.’s funeral his brother David read a gorgeous tribute called “The Baptism” that he composed in Jackie’s honor, speaking for his entire family.
Some passages from “The Baptism”, by David Robinson
“Then he rose and journeyed down the mountain to the valley and came upon a village. When the people saw him they scorned him for his naked shoulders and wild eyes and again he cried “I am a man, and I seek the means of my freedom.” But the people laughed at him saying, “we see no chains on your arms, no weight on your feet. Go, you are free, fly, fly.” And they called him mad and drove him from their village. But his soul wept, for it knew the weight of chains, and tears fell like tiny stones into the vast well of his loneliness and his heart was empty as a giant hall is empty after a feast….and he stood fixed above the water’s edge and began to weep, not from sorrow but from joy, for he saw beauty in the water and he removed his clothing and stood naked before the world, and he rose to his full height and smiled as the sun kissed his body……and he sent the water flying up like a shower of diamonds to the sky, and he laughed, for he felt the strength of the stream flowing through his veins, and he cried, “I am a man” and the majesty of his voice echoed off the mountaintops and was heard above the roar of the sea and the howl of the wind, and he was free!” (203, Robinson)
“David expressed his grief this way, and W. E. B. Du Bois expressed my unspoken anguish in other words, from “Of the Passing of the First-Born” in “The Souls of Black Folk” (203, Robinson).
“Of the Passing of the First-Born” in The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois
“Within the Veil was he born, said I; and there within shall he live,--a Negro and a Negro’s son. Holding in that little head—ah, bitterly!—the unbowed pride of a hunted race, clinging…to a hope not hopeless but unhopeful, and seeing with those bright wondering eyes that peer into my soul a land whose freedom is to us a mockery and whose liberty a lie…”
For Jackie Jr., From Candice Wiggins:
I believe we most honor Jackie Robinson Sr.’s legacy by carrying on his need and desire to find the solutions that came too late for his suffering son. If we all adopt an attitude of caring about the overlooked issues, I believe we will heal the sicknesses that strike our society hardest. Moving forward in my life I will always be connected to that gaping void left in the heart of Jackie Robinson.
Soon after the death of Jackie Jr., the family was struck with more pain and grief when Jackie’s mother Mallie passed away. Mallie was the definitive source of the spirit of Jackie Robinson. He buried his mother, and shortly after she departed, he left this earth to return to join her in their eternal home. This was a most difficult time for the Robinson family, but Rachel describes the glory that met the pain of losing their patriarch. “As the survivors—David, Sharon, and I—moved close to each other, on 93rd and 94th Streets in Manhattan, we moved even closer in a spiritual sense. We were filled with pain, but glory also, for we had loved and joined a great man, dear father, and precious husband, on a triumphant journey transcending and sustaining hope all the way” (217, Robinson).
His Daughter’s Destiny
Jackie Robinson’s daughter Sharon has the answers that we need, as she knows best that her father’s soul rests with her love. An author and educator, Sharon has published many books, non-fiction and fiction, for all ages from children to adults. She represents the dynamic destiny of Jackie Robinson; only through her life perspective will we see him for who he truly is: the finest family man.
The Jackie Robinson Foundation
The greatest tribute to Jackie Robinson is the foundation created by Rachel to honor his life and keep his legacy alive forever. There is only one destination for the Jackie Robinson Legacy, and it leads to this organization, which provides endless opportunities for those who can most identify with Jackie Robinson.
“We incorporated as the Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF), a public, not-for-profit national organization which would provide education and leadership development opportunities principally for minority youth with strong capabilities and limited financial resources” (223, Robinson).
“As I reflect on my life, I think of it as a creative struggle, and I share the convictions of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who, in a speech made in New York on August 4, 1857, said, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” I am one of the fortunate ones granted a mission at the age of twenty-three, a great partner, and the spirit to prevail.”
Four time All-American, WNBA Champion, Edutainer and Coach