AuthorZirin, Dave

In April, I was at Dodger Stadium for Jackie Robinson Day. It was a special one: the seventy-fifth anniversary of that moment in 1947 when Robinson smashed the color line.

On Jackie Robinson Day, every player on the field for every team wears number 42, as a tribute to the iconic trailblazer. But this year, the Dodgers wanted to do more than just have the players draped in Jackie's number. They brought that spirit to the stadium too, giving out 40,000 free Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson jerseys for fans to wear in the stands.

Seeing that sea of people--and it was an incredibly diverse crowd--all outfitted like Jackie was almost too emotional an experience for me to handle.

And then it got more so.

Before the start of the game, driving in on a golf cart from the outfield to the pitcher's mound and looking amazing, was Jackie's ninety-nine-year-old widow, Rachel Robinson. To be in the presence of her strength, smile, and vitality was about as moving an experience as I've ever had at any ballpark. This was someone who had been through and seen so much, while asking for nothing except, as Jackie called it, "firstclass citizenship."

On July 19, Robinson will turn 100. She has now lived for almost fifty years without Jackie and has spent that time well. She has a masters degree in nursing, worked in the profession for years, and taught at Yale.

Robinson served as director of nursing at the Connecticut Mental Health Center and as steward of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which has provided support for more than 1,800 young students of color, with a 98 percent graduation rate to show for it. She also raised their three children, lonely work indeed after Jackie passed away at age fifty-three.

And yet what Robinson is most known for, amid the doubts, danger, and pressure from all sides, is her critical historical role shepherding Jackie through his years as the great integrator of Major League Baseball. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said of Jackie Robinson that "back in the days when integration wasn't fashionable, he underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim walking the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before the sit-ins, a freedom rider before the Freedom Rides."

This is true, but Jackie's loneliness was not absolute and his strength was compounded precisely because of Rachel...

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