Arnold Rampersad. Jackie Robinson: A Biography

Article excerpt

Arnold Rampersad. Jackie Robinson: A Biography

In this 50th anniversary year when Jackie Robinson's #42 has been respectfully retired and Congress has authorized commemorative silver and gold coins in Robinson's honor, the regression in the relationship between African Americans and White people cause many to fear that America will return to what it was when Jackie Robinson integrated baseball. Few baseball players know of the historical importance of that number 50 worn on their uniforms for the 1997 baseball season; and to the public, Jackie Robinson's name is associated only with the racial integration of baseball. But there is much more to the man than that. This magnificent book by Arnold Rampersad, a fitting tribute to the memory and achievements of a very great man and perfect symbol of the need for racial equality in the United States, is recommended for all readers in these times of increasing racial intolerance.

Several books have been written about Jackie Robinson prior to 1997, perhaps the best being Jules Tygiel's, Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy, (New York: Random House, Inc., 1983). Also interesting are Stealing Home, An Intimate Family Portrait, (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1996) by Jackie's daughter, Sharon Robinson, and The Jackie Robinson Reader, edited by Jules Tygiel (New York: Dutton, 1997), consisting of essays on Robinson, the sports and political figure. There is also Jackie Robinson, An Intimate Portrait, by his wife, Rachel Robinson, a coffee table book with excellent photographs and an engaging text. All provide fascinating details to dimensions of Robinson's hitherto unknown life. However, Rampersad, in his new book, Jackie Robinson: A Biography, gives us a book far more comprehensive than any other, with such rich detail that it could arguably be called, the last word. He apparently has been privy to all the personal papers of Robinson, and has done yeoman work in interviews with family members.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in 1919 in Georgia, one of five children of Jerry and Mallie Robinson. The Robinsons were sharecroppers and Jerry, under the lash of racial discrimination and poverty, soon deserted his family, forcing Mallie and the children to move near relations in California, finally settling in Pasadena. In Rampersad's portrait, Mallie was an astonishingly intelligent, resourceful and determined woman despite her limited education. She reached Pasadena in 1920, when Jackie was less than one year old, and by 1924, although working as a domestic servant, she managed, in partnership with a relative, to buy a house in an all-white neighborhood. She soon bought the relative out, and by 1939, bought the property next door. In 1946, the year before Jackie entered major league baseball, she bought another rental property, contiguous to the first two which provided income. All this from a Black domestic worker and mother with five children. Thus, though poor, the children fared well. Inspired by his older brother Mack, the 200 meter silver finalist at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jack grew up healthy and athletic, seeing sports as a way of easing the burdens of poverty and securing a place in the hierarchy of Pasadena youth society.

By the time he graduated from Pasadena Junior High in 1935, Jackie had starred at soccer, basketball, and football. At John Muir Technical High School, he blossomed even further, singing in the glee club, playing shortstop in baseball, guard and forward on the basketball team, and ranking champion in the long jump. By 1936, he was junior boys champion in the Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament. At age 18, enrolling in Pasadena Junior College, between 1937 and 1939 he played shortstop on the baseball team, quarterback in football, and continued his dominance in the long jump and in basketball. By 1938, his baseball skills were of such caliber that Jimmy Dykes, the Chicago White Socks manager, while barnstorming in Pasadena observed, "Geez, if that kid was white, I'd sign him right now. …