Branch Rickey III remembers his grandfather's battle to integrate major league baseball. Rickey spent $35,000 of the team's money to find the right player. Robinson was not the logical choice. "Why would anybody sign Jackie Robinson?" Rickey III asks. "His every fiber in his body was strike back, strike back, strike back." But Rickey saw in Robinson the strength and ability to forbear the attacks they both knew would be coming. Paul Robeson Jr. reveals his father's role in the integration of the game. Also revealed is the concerted effort by the Communist party to end segregation in the sport. This show addresses the role of World War II in raising the expectations of returning black soldiers and the resultant backlash.
Robinson's signing caused a backlash among fans, among other teams, and
within the Dodgers. This episode addresses the hardships Jackie faced as
first black on the team and the hardships the white players faced in
overcoming their own cultural prejudice. "When you grow up that way," says
Bobby Bragan, "why, there's a segregation that's automatic. It's a way of
life." Pee Wee Reese's stubborn refusal to give in to that way of life
forged a lifelong friendship with Robinson that was reflected in their
artistic interplay on the field.
Robinson's stellar abilities gained the respect of even his most vicious
detractors and catapulted him to favor with the fans. Baseball attendance
soared, leading one writer to quip, "Jackie's nimble, Jackie's quick;
Jackie's making the turnstiles click." The real test came when the team
traveled to the Deep South. The Robinson family listened to the game on
radio back in Pasadena. Willa Mae tells how they waited for the shots
promised in the death threats Jackie had received.
Once he had fulfilled his promise of forbearance to Rickey, Jackie became
one of the most aggressive players of the time. He became an activist off
the field, and drew criticism from liberals and teammates alike when he
testified against Paul Robeson before the House Unamerican Activities
Committee. He hawked cigarettes, candy, and myriad other products. He
starred with Ruby Dee in The Jackie Robinson Story.
In this segment, you'll see the power struggle between Branch Rickey and
Walter O'Malley when Rickey's contract was up and he went to Pittsburgh.
First, he maneuvered O'Malley into paying him over a million dollars for
interest in the Dodgers. "Mr. Rickey won the battle," says Buzzie Bavasi,
"but Walter won the war." Robinson's loyalty to Rickey did not allow him
accept O'Malley, and he suspected that was why O'Malley traded him to the
Giants in 1956. Robinson chose to retire.
In 1956, the year-long Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott was in full swing. Castro wanted Havana. Dwight Eisenhower was elected president and Richard Nixon his vice president. Activist Eldridge Cleaver said that somewhere in the universe, the gears had shifted. In 1972, Robinson was honored in Cincinnati before a World Series game. In footage of the ceremony, he pays tribute to his friend Pee Wee Reese and to Branch Rickey. Nine days later, he died at the age of 53. Reggie Jackson, Ossie Davis, and Ernie Banks tell how Robinson inspired them. Don Newcombe laments the fact that in a survey of 25 black players, 19 did not know who Jackie Robinson was. But Ed Charles knew, and commemorates Jackie in a poem:
He ripped at the sod along the base path
As he ran in advance of a base.
On his feet were your hopes and mine
For a victory for the black man's case.
And the world is grateful for the legacy
Which he left for all humanity.
Thanks, Jackie, wherever you are.
You will always be our first superstar.