Jackie Robinson: A Lifetime of Breaking Barriers

“Baseball was just a part of my life. Thank God that I didn't allow a sport or a business or any part of my life to dominate me completely.”

— Jackie Robinson

Mention Jackie Robinson’s name and most people immediately think of his legendary baseball career. There was much more to his life than sports, though. Today, many people do not know how much this grandson of former slaves did off the baseball field to advance the cause of racial equality in America after he hung up his glove.

Upon leaving the sports world, Robinson used his status as a public figure to move into the political and corporate arena. In 1958 he became a spokesman and fundraiser for the NAACP.

Robinson protested with Martin Luther King in Birmingham, Alabama . He was also present at King’s famous march on Washington in 1963. New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, a personal friend, tapped him for advice on how to improve civil rights and community affairs. Robinson, while sometimes noted as a Republican supporter, was actually non partisan. He judged political leaders by their willingness to support civil rights and didn’t hold his tongue, or pen, when they failed to deliver fully on their promise to back the causes that Robinson advocated so fiercely for.

Jackie Robinson also broke color barriers in the corporate world. As Vice President of Choc Full o’ Nuts, a popular cafe chain, Robinson improved conditions for the many black employees at the company. In 1964 Robinson founded and chaired the Freedom National Bank of Harlem, which grew to be the largest black owned and operated bank in New York State. Freedom Bank stimulated Harlem’s economy by offering generous loans for local homes and businesses. The Jackie Robinson Construction Company was established in 1970 with a mission to improve housing conditions for fellow African Americans.

Jackie Robinson excelled at a time when the odds were overwhelmingly stacked against him. Robinson’s fame and popularity didn’t just make an impact on the sports world. He spent his life speaking up and reaching out to make sure future generations of African Americans wouldn’t have to struggle as he did for the basic opportunities and freedom that should be the birth right of all people.

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