Extra Bases: Reflections on Jackie Robinson, Race, and Baseball History

By Jules Tygiel | Go to book overview

FOUR

Afterword to Baseball's Great Experiment

As historian Steve Riess has commented, the Jackie Robinson story is to Americans what the Passover story is to Jews: it must be told to every generation so that we never forget. But if this is true, and it most assuredly is, what is it that we must not forget? The subtitle for Baseball's Great Experiment was Jackie Robinson and His Legacy. What, however, is the legacy of Jackie Robinson fifty years after his triumph, in an America in which the Voting Rights Act, school busing, affirmative action, and other integration strategies find themselves increasingly on the defensive; an America in which black nationalism and separatism, the antithesis of Robinson's vision, win a welcome audience in African-American communities; an America in which the tenets of Brown v. the Board of Education, the cornerstone judicial ruling of the civil rights era, are challenged by the sole African-American Supreme Court justice?

Ironically, amidst this growing retreat from integrationist values, Jackie Robinson has become, if possible, even more of a national icon, more firmly embedded in American culture than ever before. His name itself has long since entered our language as a synonym for the first to enter a field, the pathbreaker, the pioneer. At least three statues of Robinson have appeared: in Los Angeles, in Daytona Beach, Florida, and in Montreal, where a sculpted Robinson holds the hands of two children, one black and one white. Public schools, like the Jackie Robinson Academy in Long Beach, California, and the Jackie Robinson Junior High School in Brooklyn, bear his name. The Library of Congress lists fifteen books published about Jackie Robinson since 1983, thirteen of them addressed to juvenile and young adult readers. 1 Indeed, he has become a staple of social studies courses, usually segregated, ironically, into the annual celebration of African-American history month. There have been two television movies (including The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson, in which Joe Louis and Dodger scout

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