FAITH IN DEMOCRACY
ROBINSON TO RALPH NORTON
Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier on August 28, 1945, when he signed a letter of agreement that bound him to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Two months later, on October 23, Branch Rickey, general manager of the Dodgers, offered Robinson a formal contract to play for the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' top farm team. In this handwritten letter to Ralph Norton, an acquaintance from his days at Pasadena Junior College, Robinson writes of his tryout in Florida the following spring.
March 12, 1946
I too remember the good old days at P.J.C. and I remember you from the Chronicle. It was nice hearing from you and I do appreciate your well wishes. It would be really nice hearing from the fellows you mentioned, and I am sure that if we get encouraging letters such as yours it is going to be tough keeping us off the club. I would appreciate hearing more from you and I will keep you informed as to our progress. So far it has been a real pleasure playing here with the fellows. Everyone has been so nice and they have given us help along the way. I did not expect any trouble but I also did not expect to be welcomed as I have. It reminds me of the days at P.J.C. when all the fellows used to block and clear the way so I could run with the ball. We have met a couple that have resented us, but only a sharp eye could tell. All I can say is if we make the club, it will be on our own merit. If not it will be due to the fact that the many ballplayers Montreal has are better than we are. Our manager Clay Hopper has been very helpful and is giving us every chance possible. If you hear from Glick, Vanderweer or Shatford give them my regards.
Robinson made his major-league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, and among his ardent supporters that year was Bernice Franklin, the owner of a general store near Tyronza, Arkansas. "I live in a small all-Negro town," she wrote Robinson. "We go to Memphis for all our amusements, but there is no greater thrill than a broadcast of the Dodgers baseball game ... right now the farmers are gathering [at the store] for your game this afternoon." Another fan was Norman Thomas, leader of the Socialist Party of America, six-time candidate for the presidency, and advocate for racial justice and world peace. Throughout 1947 Robinson agreed to follow Rickey's biblical admonition to "turn the other cheek," and Thomas was pleased with this nonviolent strategy.
September 23, 1947
Dear Mr. Robinson:
Now that the Dodgers have won the pennant, it is very appropriate, I think, to thank you not only for what you did in the pennant race but for what you have done for the colored race and for the fraternity which ought to characterize our mutual relations. You have performed a real service to our country and in general to a world which must learn to honor men for what they are and do regardless of race.
I am writing on the letterhead of an organization interested in the kind of world relations that will bring peace, and I rather think its members would share my feeling about your contribution to the kind of attitude on which peace depends.
Sincerely yours, Norman Thomas
ROBINSON TO ADMIRER
Not all fan mail was as high-minded as Norman Thomas's, and the following is Robinson's reply to a troubled young woman who had written of her love for him. The letter reveals Robinson's quick and easy appeal to moral principles--an appeal that would become characteristic of his civil rights letters.
October 15, 1947
Dear Miss [editor's deletion]:
Ordinarily I wouldn't even consider answering a letter like yours, but I believe you need to get straightened out on a few things. A girl as attractive and intelligent as you sound certainly should have no difficulty in finding the right man and creating a sound, honest life together in marriage. You are suffering from some kind of mental delusion that can bring you nothing but trouble and unhappiness and my advice is to get interested in some kind of work outside your daily routine in the office.
When I married Mrs. Robinson, I exchanged vows to love, honor and cherish her for the rest of my life. "Honor" means just that to me, and any sneaking, skulking escapade would destroy the very thing that enables me to hold my head up high.
Just in case you might want to write me again, I must inform you that all my mail is opened at the Brooklyn baseball club offices and then forwarded to me.
Yours in reproof, Jackie Robinson
LESTER GRANGER TO ROBINSON
By now a celebrity athlete, Robinson appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on July 18, 1949, as it held hearings on African American loyalty to the United States. Of special concern to the committee was a remark reportedly made by Paul Robeson, the internationally renowned singer and actor, about the possibility of a war between the United States and the Soviet Union. "It is unthinkable," Robeson allegedly stated, "that American Negroes would go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations against a country which in one generation has raised our people to the full dignity of mankind." In his widely publicized testimony, Robinson characterized Robeson's remark as "very silly," adding that African Americans would "do their best to help their country stay out of war; if unsuccessful, they'd do their best to help their country win the war--against Russia or any other enemy that threatened us." Lester Granger, executive director of the National Urban League, praise Robinson in the following letter. Near the end of his life, however Robinson expressed regret for appearing before HUAC.
July 19, 1949
Together with hundreds of thousands of other Americans in New York City and throughout the country, I was inordinately proud when I picked up the papers last night and this morning and read the reports of your appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. I don't need to tell you what impression you made on the public generally.
One report stressed the dignity and sincerity with which you made your statement. In nutshell form, you have stated the case for the American Negro in such a way as to send it around the world in quarters where no other such expression would have received any notice at all. This should be a matter of great pride to you and your wife, even while you realize that there will be sharp criticism and some underhand attacks coming from left-wing or uninformed sources.
I am now an old hand at the business of receiving public criticism as well as approbations. I have learned that praise never lasts as long as I would like, but also that criticism is never important when it is delivered by dishonest or uninformed people.
The Communist group is exceptionally skilled at kicking up a row that seems to be out of all proportion to their actual numbers among our population. They can fill Madison Square Garden for a rally. They can recruit a hundred people to send a thousand telegrams and letters. They can magnify the squeak of a mouse to the point where it seems like the roar of a lion.
I hope that you will expect this kind of result and not be at all disturbed when it occurs. For your information, after the radio and evening newspapers made their comments last night, I circulated for five hours among bars and grills, sidewalk groups and neighbors and friends. It was remarkable that in not one single case did I receive from any person to whom I talked anything but praise for the way in which you had expressed yourself. My experience may have been exceptional in its absence of any criticism, but I am confident that it was typical in its overwhelming preponderance of approval for your point of view.
You have rendered a service to our people which will be gratefully regarded for many years to come. On behalf of the National Urban League and the millions of Americans who believe in what we are trying to do, I want to thank you for your service.
I hope to improve upon the acquaintanceship--or, I hope, friendship--which we have developed in our contacts. Please give Mrs. Robinson my warm regards.
Sincerely yours, Lester B. Granger
ROBINSON TO BRANCH RICKEY
Robinson considered Rickey to be the father he never had, and he was disappointed when Rickey sold his ownership interest in the Dodgers in 1950 and became general manger of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Robinson refers to Rickey's tenure as general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s and early 1940s.
No date [November 1950]
Dear Mr. Rickey,
I have been intending to write for about a month now and it seems that finding the right words comes hard as I will attempt at this time to put them down.
It is certainly tough on everyone in Brooklyn to have you leave the organization but to me it's much worse, and I don't mind saying we (my family) hate to see you go but realize that baseball is like that and anything can happen. It has been the finest experience I have had being associated with you, and I want to thank you very much for all you have meant not only to me and my family but to the entire country and particularly the members of our race. I am glad for your sake that I had a small part to do with the success of your efforts and must admit it was your excellent guidance that enabled me to do it. Regardless of what happens to me in the future, it all can be placed on what you have done and, believe me, I appreciate it.
I don't know the circumstances that caused you to sell, but I am smart enough to know that a person does not sell a growing thing unless there is some misunderstanding some place. But I do want to wish you and your family the very best of everything and sincerely hope that you are able to bring to Pittsburgh just what you did to Brooklyn and St. Louis. I hope to end my playing in Brooklyn as it means so very much, but if I have to go any place I hope it can be with you.
My wife joins me in saying thanks very much, Mr. Rickey, and we sincerely hope that we can always be regarded as your friends and whenever we need advice we can call on you as usual regardless of where we may be.
My very best wishes to you and yours and a hope for your continued success.
Sincerely yours, Jackie
BRANCH RICKEY TO ROBINSON
December 31, 1950
It is not at all because of lack of appreciation that I have not acknowledged your good letter of some time ago. Neither your writing and sending the letter, nor its contents, gave me very much surprise. I have observed that you have learned long ago that most things, good or bad, just don't happen to people by accident. Your thoughtfulness in the field of so-called unimportant things has doubtless led to much of your success. Anyhow, the fact that you wrote the letter, and particularly the things you said in it, not only meant very much to me, and was, as I have said, deeply appreciated, but it also revealed why you have come to so much deserved distinction.
I hope the day will soon come when it will be entirely possible, as it is entirely right, that you can be considered for administrative work in baseball, particularly in the direction of field management.
I do not know of any player in the game today who could, in my judgment, manage a major league club better than yourself. I recently made this statement in the presence of several writers in the course of various remarks, but I have looked in vain for the reporting of the statement.
Very often during these holidays, I have thought of you and Rachel and the family. I choose to feel that my acquaintanceship with you has ripened into a very real friendship, growing out of our facing and trying to solve common problems and our continuous record of seeing eye to eye in practically all of these problems that faced us.
I do not suppose that our paths will probably parallel again in any close fashion, but I do want you and Rachel to know that always I, and, indeed the family, will have a constant and lasting interest in your welfare and happiness.
As I have often expressed to you, I think you carry a great responsibility for your people, and I am sure that you sense the duties resting upon you because of that responsibility, and I cannot close this letter without once more admonishing you to prepare yourself to do a widely useful work, and, at the same time, dignified and effective in the field of public relations. A part of this preparation, and I know you are smiling, for you have already guessed my oft repeated suggestion, is to finish your college course meritoriously, and get your degree. It would be a great pleasure for me to be your agent in placing you in a big job after your playing days are finished. Believe me always.
Sincerely yours, Branch Rickey
JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER III TO ROBINSON
Robinson and his Dodgers teammate Roy Campanella worked together as counselors at the Harlem branch of the YMCA. They also supported the Y by soliciting funds from the Rockefeller family, a longtime benefactor of African American causes.
January 18, 1951
Dear Mr. Robinson:
My son and I enjoyed very much our recent talk with you. I was especially interested to hear about the work you and Mr. Campanella are doing in furthering the boys work program of the Harlem Y.M.C.A.
Because of my appreciation not only of the importance of this program but also of the part you personally are playing in it, it gives me real pleasure to send you the enclosed cashier's check drawn to the order of the Harlem Branch as a contribution toward the expense of this program during the current year. Since the Rockefeller Brothers Fund gives to the Y.M.C.A. of the City of New York, my brothers and I havenot felt that we could normally contribute to branches of the "Y" within the city. Because of this you will understand, I am sure, my asking that this gift be reported as having come from an anonymous source.
In writing this letter I don't feel that it is complete without an expression of sincere admiration and appreciation of those principles for which you stand personally in American life.
Sincerely, John D. Rockefeller
"THE TRAVELERS" TO ROBINSON
On the day he received this letter, and aware of this threat against his life, Robinson slugged a home run in the first game of a doubleheader at Crosley Field, home of the Cincinnati Reds. The Dodgers swept the twin bill, 10-3 and 14-4, and the threat proved idle.
No date [received May 20, 1951]
We have already got rid of several like you. One was found in river just recently. Robinson, we are going to kill you if you attempt to enter a ballgame at Crosley Field.
"DODGER HATER" TO ROBINSON
This letter is yet another example of the many death threats that Robinson received throughout his baseball career. Arnold Schuster, referenced below, had identified the bank robber William Sutton following the robbery of a Queens bank in 1950, and two years later, shortly before the beginning of Sutton's trial, Schuster was murdered on the streets of Brooklyn. It is unclear whether the author of the following letter is disturbed by Robinson's skin color, athletic prowess,or both. But there was no attempt to kill Robinson, and the Dodgers won the pennant in 1953.
September 15, 1953
Dear Mr. Robinson,
[FBI deletion] was warned not to win the pennant. But he did anyhow, and he won't be in St. Louis. Well that's bad cause you are going to get it. Remember what happened to Arnold Shuyster in Brooklyn in 1952? Well Wed. nite Sept. 15 you die. No use crying to the cops. You'll be executed gangland style at Busch stadium.
ROBINSON TO DWIGHT EISENHOWER
On November 23 Rachel and Jackie Robinson attended the fortieth anniversary dinner for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith in Washington, D.C. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the keynote speaker at the televised event, made a special effort to shake Robinson's hand just after delivering his speech.
November 25, 1953
Dear Mr. President:
I want to take this opportunity to let you know how very much it meant to me to be able to meet you briefly at the dinner in Washington Monday night.
It was a great privilege for me to appear on a program in which the President of the United States took part. It was equally great for me to experience the warmth and sincerity of your handshake in the midst of such an illustrious group of Americans.
My wife and I will always remember our experience that night. It is events like this that make us certain our faith in democracy is indeed justified.
Very sincerely yours, Jackie Robinson
November 30, 1953
Dear Mr. Robinson:
Thank you very much for your nice note. In answer, may I say only that you represent to me and to many Americans one more evidence that our democracy, in which we have so much pride, is indeed in our country a workable, living ideal. All of us are grateful to you for the courage on your part required to demonstrate this.
With best wishes to you and Mrs. Robinson,
Sincerely, Dwight D. Eisenhower
ROBINSON TO MAXWELL RABB
The following letter is early evidence of Robinson's lifelong efforts to advance the cause of civil rights through affordable housing--and to make money in business beyond the baseball diamond. Here he seeks assistance from Maxwell Rabb, secretary to the Eisenhower cabinet, in securing a federal mortgage for a New York City housing project for minorities. The project never reached completion.
November 15, 1954
Dear Mr. Rabb:
Thank you for your letter. I am sorry it did not reach here until I was in Washington, and that I was unable to contact you.
I was very interested in Mr. Alan Paton's story in the Saturday Evening Post, where he said, "The Negroes today are no longer saying let my people go, but let my people in." He was referring to the tremendous need there is for Minority Housing, and his article spurred my writing you again. I am sure you must know how important this field is, and I feel that it's an obligation that should be fulfilled. It also seems that besides being a real necessity it would serve as a big public relations job.
I do hope that I can get a favorable reaction from you on this matteras it is extremely important to the retention of our site which we had approved sometime ago. I know the housing situation is a precarious one right now, but I don't believe anyone could find anything but praise for the Administration for relieving this serious strain.
I have been in touch with the Urban League, and they feel also that you would be doing a fine thing if something could be arranged. They have given me their wholehearted support, and it's the encouragement that I needed from this end. Now if we can only get the Administration's support a badly needed project could be under way.
Sincerely yours, Jackie Robinson
ROBINSON TO AVERELL HARRIMAN
In October 1955 shots were fired at the home of Reverend Joseph A. DeLaine, a local civil rights activist who had organized parents to fight for equal treatment for African American students in Clarendon County, South Carolina. DeLaine's efforts--which had helped spur one of the lawsuits of Brown v. Board of Education--led to threats against his life, and because he returned fire in the October 1955 incident, local authorities charged him with assault and battery, with intent to kill. DeLaine protested his innocence, claiming to have fired only at the car of the assailant, and fled to New York. Here Robinson lobbies New York governor Averell Harriman to protect DeLaine from extradition proceedings. DeLaine avoided extradition and became the founding pastor of an African Methodist Episcopal church in Buffalo, New York.
December 6, 1955
Dear Governor Harriman:
As you know, there is much concern in the City of New York, and in the Harlem community, in particular, about the future fate of Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine, "fugitive" from Clarendon County, South Carolina.
At this time, in many areas of the South, there is great unrest and unsettlement, which is part of the death throes of a great social evil. We are sure that in time, the spirit embodied in the Constitution of the United States will prevail in all sections of the country; however, it is important now that we be vigilant in guarding against flagrant miscarriages ofjustice that will hurt not only the innocent victims, but also the perpetrators.
As an American citizen and as a human being concerned about the welfare of all people, I am writing to urge you not to sign extradition papers for Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine. I believe that he is worthy of sanctuary, and that of all states, the Empire State, New York, should provide a haven for a very courageous man whose only crime was being born a Negro and attempting to protect his person, his family and his home.
I feel confident that you will give this matter every consideration, and that justice and the spirit of the true American democratic way of life will prevail with you as you make your decision.
Very sincerely yours, Jackie Robinson
ROBINSON TO CAROLINE WALLERSTEIN
David and Caroline Wallerstein, close friends of the Robinsons, resided in Chicago, where David was president of the largest movie-theater chain in the Midwest. In the following letter to Caroline, Robinson refers to his ongoing salary negotiations with E. J. "Buzzie" Bavasi, the general manager of the Dodgers, and to Martin Stone, Robinson's new financial adviser. Robinson was looking forward to life beyond the diamond at this point, and he expresses hope for a future in sports broadcasting. He was already doing a local television sports show in New York City with the sportscaster Marty Glickman, and he was hoping that it would become a national program. Glickman was no stranger to racial discrimination himself; twenty years earlier he was a star runner at Syracuse University and had been selected to compete in the 400-meter relay at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. At the last minute, however, U.S. track officials pulled him and another Jewish runner from the competition, apparently in deference to the host--Adolf Hitler.
January 3, 1956
Well, the new year has arrived and I'm looking forward to it, although at this time I'm not sure what is to happen. I was to talk with Buzzie lastweek but he came up sick. I don't know if it was a legit sickness but he put our meeting off anyway. I had a long talk with Marty Stone the other day, and he was telling me not to give in to their wishes and that's what my plan is. I'm not sure whether I'll be playing next year or not so I am looking for other things. I also want to thank both you and Dave for your interests. I am sure you must know that most networks are not ready yet, and I believe it's a shame because I am certain most people are. Our program at NBC has the highest local sports rating and it's creating considerable talk not only with the people but the station. I am fairly certain that NBC is about ready to do something ... but regardless of that I have the feeling it's only fear that holds them back. I am doing a spot with Marty Glickman and we work very well together. I am as sure as anything that this sort of a program would go just as well on a larger scale as it does over the local station, and it will also in my opinion create a good deal of good public relations value ...
Since the World Series pictures have been previewed there has been a lot more talk about the steal of home and my play all around. Dick Young and Mike Gaven both gave me tremendous credit for the series, and it made the old boy feel good. I guess we really live for good writeups, but not at the sacrifice of our principles. Each week on our program we try to bring this out, and Marty Glickman usually throws a provocative question at me and, believe me, we say what we believe. Because of this I have made many friends, and I really hope everyone understands some of my reasons. I know also that because of my outspokenness some don't like it, but nevertheless I'll always say what I believe. I'll take the true friends like you and your family, and in the end I believe most people will realize just as you do some of our reasons ...
ROBINSON TO WILLIAM KEEFE
Bill Keefe, sports editor for the Times-Picayune of New Orleans, had written an editorial suggesting that Robinson's behavior was the catalyst for a new Louisiana law that criminalized interracial sports.
July 23, 1956
Dear Mr. Keefe:
I am in receipt of a clipping in which you make reference to me in connection with the passage of the athletic segregation bill in Louisiana.
I am writing you, not as Jackie Robinson, but as one human being to another. I cannot help, nor possibly alter what you think about me. I speak to you only as an American who happens to be an American Negro and one who is proud of that heritage.
We ask for nothing special. We ask only that we be permitted to live as you live, and as our nation's constitution provides. We ask only, in sports, that we be permitted to compete on an even basis and, if we are not worthy, then the competition shall, per se, eliminate us. Certainly you, and the people of Louisiana, should be capable of facing such competition.
Myself, and other Negroes in the majors, stop in hotels with the rest of the club in towns like St. Louis and Cincinnati. These hotels have not gone out of business. No investment has been destroyed. The hotels are, I believe, prospering. And there has been no unpleasantness.
I wish you could see this as I do, but I hold little hope. I wish you could comprehend how unfair and un-American it is for the accident of birth to make such a difference to you. I assume you are of Irish extraction. I have been told that, as recently as fifty years ago, want ads in newspapers carried the biased line "Irish and Italians need not apply" in certain sections of our country. This has been forgotten, or at least overcome.
You call me "insolent." I'll admit I have not been subservient, but would you use the same adjective to describe a white ballplayer--say Ted Williams, who is, more often than I, involved in controversial matters? Am I insolent, or am I merely insolent for a Negro (who has courage enough to speak against injustices such as yours and people like you)?
I am deeply regretful that Louisiana has taken this step backward ... because your sports fans, and I believe there are many fine persons among them, will be deprived of top attractions because of it ... not for the Negro in Louisiana who will, because of your law, be deprived of the right of free and equal competition--but because of the damage it does to our country.
I am happy for you, that you were born white. It would have been extremely difficult for you had it been otherwise.
Sincerely yours, Jackie Robinson
HERBERT LEHMAN TO ROBINSON
The platform hearings on civil rights at the 1956 Democratic National Convention pitted opponents to integration against civil rights activists, including the liberal senator Herbert Lehman of New York. The liberals were dealt a blow on August 16 when the convention rejected a platform plank that promised implementation of Supreme Court decisions prohibiting segregation in transportation and public schools--including the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Eleanor Roosevelt moderated the contentious convention debate, and although the final language did not mention Brown, the Democratic platform declared that the Supreme Court was the finial authority on civil rights issues, and it condemned the use of violence in racial matters.
August 21, 1956
Thanks very much indeed for your telegram of August 16th, which reached me at the Convention in Chicago. It was very thoughtful of you to wire me and I greatly appreciate it.
I was of course disappointed that our minority report on civil rights was not adopted at the Convention. Had it been possible to secure a roll call vote, I think we would have had a very good chance of winning. Regardless of our defeat, I think the fight which we made was very worthwhile and will be of much use in the future. I am very confident that within a reasonably short time the whole country will recognize that every man, woman and child, regardless of race, color or religion, must receive all their rights and liberties guaranteed by our constitution and by our statutes.
Thank you again very much indeed for your telegram. With kind personal regards, I am
Yours very sincerely, Herbert H. Lehman
I have long been one of your fans and I watch the Dodger games on TV as often as possible.
BRANCH RICKEY TO ROY WILKINS
In December 1956 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) presented Robinson with the Spingarn Medal, an annual award for distinguished achievement. At the luncheon held in his honor, Robinson stated: "Today marks the high point in my career. To be honored in this way by the NAACP means more than anything that has happened to me before. That is because the NAACP, to me, represents everything that a man should stand for: for human dignity, for brotherhood, for fair play." In the following telegram to Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, Branch Rickey commends Robinson yet again.
December 7, 1956
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to be congratulated for giving this signal recognition to Jackie Robinson. Not very many folks really appreciate how well he has done in a very hard but challenging assignment. It was important that I choose an understanding partner in the baseball innovation. But it was also equally important that the man should sense understandingly the responsibility that he carried for his whole race. I think he has pioneered both jobs with high satisfaction. Frankly the honor you are bestowing has been long deserved. Therefore my heartiest congratulations to the NAACP and then of course you will please extend to Robbie my heartfelt felicitations.
HAROLD HOWLAND TO ROBINSON
Harold Howland, a staff member of the U.S. State Department's International Educational Exchange Service, invites Robinson to become a goodwill ambassador for the United States. Like Robinson, the State Department recognized that racial segregation and discrimination damaged the international credibility of the United States, especially in developing countries. Howland wrote this letter the day after it was announced that the Dodgers had traded Robinson to their crosstown rivals, the New York Giants. Three weeks later, Robinson would announce his retirement from baseball. There is no evidence to suggest that he accepted Howland's invitation.
December 14, 1956
I'd like to refer to our earlier exchange of letters and simply say that we in the State Department still feel that you could do a lot of good in winning respect and understanding for our country if you were to take on a trip abroad to meet informally with youth groups and sports enthusiasts.
We would of course handle all the details of travel and cover your expenses. We would need about a month to work out the details of the trip, so if and when you can see your way clear to take on a goodwill trip abroad for your country please give me a call, collect. As you know, Bob Mathias, Sammy Lee, Jesse Owens, Bob Richards are some of the outstanding American athletes who have won immeasurable respect for the United States. We think you are of the same caliber, hence our continuing hope that you can find a month or two to visit abroad. I realize you have just returned from Japan as a member of the Dodger team, but what we have in mind is developing a program about you to a number of countries in South America.
Best wishes for a successful season with the Giants.
Sincerely yours, Harold E. Howland
Copyright © 2007 by Michael G. Long Letters of Jackie Robinson copyright © 2007 by Rachel Robinson. Licensed by CMG Worldwide. www.JackieRobinson.comAll rights reserved.