Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

We'll Never Know All the Burdens Jackie Robinson Shouldered

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

We'll Never Know All the Burdens Jackie Robinson Shouldered

Article excerpt

There was Jackie Robinson the ballplayer.

The ballplayer who broke down the major leagues' color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The ballplayer who was National League Rookie of the Year.

The ballplayer who appeared in six World Series.

The ballplayer who led the NL in batting and won its Most Valuable Player Award in 1949.

The ballplayer who compiled a career batting average of .311.

The ballplayer who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in '62.

Then there was Jackie Robinson the man.

The man who endured the silent treatment from teammates, taunts from spectators and brushback pitches from the opposition.

The man who had to turn the other cheek, for a time, in the face of that antagonism.

The man who had to endure the indignity of being turned away from restaurants and hotels.

The man who won back his son, Jack Jr., from drug addiction only to lose him again in a car accident in 1971.

The man who battled diabetes and dwindling eyesight late in his life before succumbing to a heart attack in 1972 at the age of 53.

Robinson, it seems, was both American hero and tragic figure. At once, he was liberator and burden-bearer. Joe Louis or Jesse Owens might have felt something like it.

"Jackie Robinson was a very complex man," said Gerald Early, professor of English at Washington University and director of its African and Afro-American Studies Program. "In a lot of ways, he was a kind of difficult man to understand.

"In one respect, Jackie Robinson was one of the great American heroes. Black or white. He did something that very few other people could have done. His wife (Rachel) deserves a lot of credit, too. There's not a lot of women who could have dealt with that, either. So on one level, people just ought to thank God that the guy existed because he really made a major change."

Yet Early, who was a consultant on Ken Burn's 18 1/2-hour television series "Baseball," wonders whether Robinson harbored any pent-up pique. Robinson is one of the subjects of Burns' sixth "inning," which will air Sunday on PBS, called "The National Pastime." The inning ends with a tribute to Robinson.

Early has a large photograph of Robinson hanging in his department's office and a much smaller one tucked into the corner of a framed poster in his private office. …

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