Jackie Robinson is probably best known for breaking the color barrier in major-league baseball in 1947. Within the realm of baseball, Mr. Robinson's legacy is one of overcoming hardship and in two year's time leading the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the National League title.
Mainstream American history, however, seems to shift away from Mr. Robinson after his retirement in 1957. Robinson endured years of hardship in the National League, from jeering fans to rival teams and fellow players who tried to opt out of games with him.
But Robinson was just as active in his pursuit of equality during his retirement, as a public advocate for civil rights and a board member of the NAACP.
After retiring, Robinson worked on the NAACP’s “Fight for Freedom,” a fundraising and advocacy campaign aimed at abolishing segregation and discrimination by 1963, according to the Library of Congress.
An article published in July 23, 1957 by the Baltimore Afro-American reports that a sponsored dinner for the Freedom Fund held in Chicago that month raised $20,000. Robinson, the national chairman of the drive at the time, urged attendees to pledge to the NAACP and support integration.
“In our struggle for civil rights we must not be motivated by color but by our love of God andd [sic] our love of freedom. I would resign as head of the campaign today if I thought for one moment that the NAACP was fighting only for the rights of colored people.”
Robinson, who was an executive at the Chock Full O’ Nuts restaurant chain, sent a letter to President Dwight Eisenhower in May 1958, advocating for social justice in American public schools.
“17 million Negroes cannot do as you suggest and wait for the hearts of men to change,” the letter reads. “We want to enjoy now the rights that we feel we are entitled to as Americans. This we cannot do unless we pursue aggressively goals which all other Americans achieved over 150 years.”
A few months later, Robinson and a group of civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., planned the Youth March for Integrated Schools, according to Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Project. The first march, held on Oct. 25, 1958, drew a crowd of 10,000 that marched down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., to the Lincoln Memorial.
Robinson also helped fund the African American Students Foundation, a scholarship program that brought talented African students to the United States. Among the recipients was Barrack Obama Sr., who went on to study economics at the University of Honnolulu.
Robinson’s legacy of advocating civil rights in education lives on through the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The JRF, established by Rachel Robinson a few months after her husband’s death in October 1972, offers educational and leadership programs for under-served youth.