November 6, 2001 Library of Congress Acquires the Jackie Robinson Papers
Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940
Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson's widow, has given his papers to the Library of Congress. Comprehensive in scope, the collection of more than 7,000 items richly chronicles all aspects of Robinson's life -- the early years through college, military service, baseball career, corporate career and business interests, civil rights activities, involvement in politics, media activities and humanitarian concerns. The Jackie Robinson Papers also document the evolution of Robinson's legacy, represented, in part, by a variety of posthumous commemorations, events and tributes.
The main body of the Jackie Robinson Papers was in the possession of Mrs. Robinson until 1985, when she transferred them to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a nonprofit organization she founded in 1973 to promote leadership development and scholarship among minority and poor youth. Over the years, additional materials retrieved from various individuals and repositories have been systematically added to enhance the research value of the collection. Mrs. Robinson decided to give the whole collection to the Library of Congress at this time as a permanent repository.
The papers include correspondence, speeches and other writings, memoranda, financial records, subject files, baseball contracts and other legal documents, military records, media interviews, transcripts of radio and television programs, ephemera, photographs, newspaper clippings and printed matter. A major portion of the collection is devoted to Robinson's pioneering role in baseball. The correspondence includes letters from a wide range of individuals affiliated with baseball -- officials, fellow players and sportswriters. Among these are Branch Rickey, Walter O'Malley, Clyde Sukeforth, Hank Greenberg, Happy Chandler, E.J. Bavasi, Joe L. Brown, Al Campanis and Joe Reichler. The collection also contains an array of fan mail from across the United States and abroad.
When Jackie Robinson began his rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, he became the first African American to play major league baseball in the 20th century, breaking down the "color line" in effect since 1876. The son of sharecroppers, Jack Roosevelt Robinson (1919-1972) was born on Jan. 31, 1919, near Cairo, Georgia, and reared in Pasadena, California. He studied at Pasadena Junior College, before transferring to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1939. There Robinson met nursing student Rachel Isum, whom he married in 1946. An outstanding athlete, Robinson lettered in four sports at UCLA -- baseball, football, basketball and track. He withdrew from UCLA in his senior year, hoping to relieve some of his mother's financial burdens. He worked for the National Youth Administration as an athletic instructor and also earned extra money playing football for the Honolulu Bears.
Robinson showed an early interest in civil rights as a draftee in the Army. He was drafted in 1942 and served on bases in Kansas and Texas. With the help of boxer Joe Louis, he succeeded in opening an Officer Candidate School (OCS) to black soldiers. After attending OCS, he was commissioned a second lieutenant. At Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson faced a court-martial for refusing to obey an order to move to the back of the bus; he was later exonerated. After he was discharged from the Army in 1944, Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs baseball team of the National Negro League in the spring of 1945.
In October1945, Jackie Robinson was signed by Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to play for the Montreal Royals of the International League, the Dodgers' minor league affiliate. He went on to lead the Royals to a Little World Series championship in 1946 and was moved up to the Dodgers in April 1947. During his 10-year career with the Dodgers, Robinson compiled a .311 lifetime batting average, played in six World Series, and stole home 19 times. He also won the National League's Most Valuable Player award in 1949, when he led the league with a .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility.
After his retirement, Robinson engaged in several business ventures that encouraged black economic development. He became the vice president of personnel for the Chock Full O' Nuts restaurant chain, where he worked diligently to improve the status of the many lower level African Americans employed there. He helped found and served as board chairman for the Freedom National Bank, a minority-owned commercial bank based in Harlem. He also opened a clothing store in Harlem and later established the Jackie Robinson Construction Company to build affordable housing for low- and moderate-income black families.
Robinson became a fervent advocate of civil rights, publicizing his views as a lecturer, newspaper columnist and host and guest on radio and television programs. He worked closely with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which recognized him in 1956 with the prestigious Spingarn Medal, awarded annually for the highest achievement by an African American. Robinson chaired the NAACP's million-dollar Freedom Fund Drive in 1957 and was a member of the board of directors until 1967. He also lent his support to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress for Racial Equality and the National Urban League.
Robinson's commitment to racial equality extended to Africa as well. He had a particular interest in the African independence movements and sought to promote education for the next generation of leaders in emerging nations on the continent. To this end, he supported the work of the African-American Students Foundation, which sponsored African students at American colleges and universities.
Robinson also worked extensively with churches and interfaith organizations. He served as president of the United Church Men of the United Church of Christ and participated in both the National Council of Churches and the National Conference of Christians and Jews. His many civic activities included work with children and adolescents, especially those involved in the YMCA. He also participated in national campaigns to combat drug addiction and worked on civil rights and community development issues in various political campaigns.
In his later years, Robinson became disillusioned with the continued lack of opportunity for blacks. His health began to deteriorate rapidly in the 1970s. On Oct. 15, 1972, he attended a World Series game in Cincinnati that included a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of his breaking the color line in professional baseball. Nine days later, on Oct. 24, Jackie Robinson died of a heart attack at his home in Stamford, Connecticut.
Among the many public officials represented in the correspondence are Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, Hubert Humphrey, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Barry Goldwater, Averell Harriman, Kenneth Keating and Chester Bowles. Also represented are civil rights leaders such as Lester Granger, Wyatt Tee Walker, Roy Wilkins, Daisy Lampkin, and Walter White.
There is an extensive speech file covering the entire range of Robinson's interests. Many speeches reveal handwritten revisions and marginalia. The collection also contains manuscripts of the books Robinson wrote with collaborators, most notably the biographies, Wait Till Next Year and I Never Had It Made. They include correspondence and interviews with his co-authors, as well as his editorial notes and comments. In addition, the collection includes revised drafts of Robinson's newspaper columns and the script of the 1980 Broadway musical The First.
The Jackie Robinson Papers relate to other collections already in the Library's Manuscript Division. Chief among these are the papers of Branch Rickey and Arthur Mann. Material related to Robinson's civil rights activities can also be found in the records of the NAACP and National Urban League, as well as the papers of Joseph Rauh and A. Philip Randolph.
The Library's Web sites also feature Robinson. "By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s" is available from the American Memory collections at www.loc.gov. Look for Robinson on the America's Library site for kids and families as well, in its "Join America at Play" section at www.americaslibrary.gov.