Academic journal article Journalism History

"This Is IT!"

Academic journal article Journalism History

"This Is IT!"

Article excerpt

The PR Campaign by Wendell Smith and Jackie Robinson

This article reveals and examines Jackie Robinsons little-known role as a columnist for the Pittsburgh Courier during his groundbreaking first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. The twenty-five weekly columns are placed into historical context by comparing their characterizations of the events of that season against later, fuller, and in some ways more accurate accounts from Robinson and others. This study seeks to hold up the picture or gallery of pictures that he wanted his readers to see, pictures that framed the events of that season. Identifying what Robinson and Smith selected and emphasized, and what they left out, points to alternate texts and alternate meanings. Importantly, the absences and omissions could say much about what Robinson signified in presenting that first season in an unrelentingly positive light.

Few figures loom as large in American culture as Jackie Robinson, the subject of poetry and a library shelf of books, Hollywood films and Broadway musicals, sermons and short stories, term papers and dramatic plays, comic books, and children's books. His journey to and with the Brooklyn Dodgers is among America's most often told tales of heroism and courage, and he has become shorthand for unflappable calm in the face of incredible adversity, including racism, irrational hatred, and even death direats.

This article reveals and examines Jackie Robinsons littleknown role as a columnist for the Pittsburgh Courier, a black newspaper, during his groundbreaking first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the first for a black in major league baseball since Moses Fleetwood Walker caught for the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1889.1 The twenty-five weekly columns are placed into historical context by comparing rheir characterizations of the events of that season against later, fuller, and in some ways more accurate accounts from Robinson and others. Realizing that language is not neutral, but active and functional in shaping social realities and identities, this study seeks to hold up the picture or gallery of pictures that he wanted his readers to see, pictures that framed the events ofthat first season. Framing theorists have noted die power of media frames to "construct reality" for their audiences through selection and emphasis of certain facts.2 Identifying what Robinson and long-time Courier sports editor Wendell selected and emphasized, and what they left out of these pictures, will point to alternate texts and alternate meanings. Importantly, the absences and omissions could say as much about what Robinson signified in presenting that first season in an unrelentingly positive light.

The columns are identified here as one prong of a threepronged public relations campaign by Smith designed to ensure Robinson's success with the Dodgers and to leave no doubt in anyone's mind diat the twentieth century's first black major league baseball player belonged in Brooklyn. The other prongs of his campaign, in addition to ghostwriting the "Jackie Robinson Says" column, were championing the player's every move in his own "Sports Beat" column in the Courier, which often ran on the same page as Robinson's, and ghostwriting Robinson's first autobiography, Jackie Robinson: My Own Story, which was written in 1947 and published in the next year. This article also compares that first autobiography with later, seemingly more candid and clearly more comprehensive, depictions ofthat first season in an effort to analyze how Robinson and Smidi constructed a particular social reality for Courier readers in 1947.3

In many ways, Robinson was the ideal candidate to break through baseball's color barrier. As UCLA's first four-sport letterman, he was a national household name. Although he achieved most of his notoriety as an All-American running back for the Bruins' football team, in a backfield that he shared with another AilAmerican, Kenny Washington, he also was the Western Athletic Conference's most valuable player in basketball, and in track he set a conference record in the long jump. …

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