Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
It’s been 71 years since Robinson broke the color barrier and became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. All these decades later, the significant feat is still being celebrated in the borough that started it all.
The Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS), 128 Pierrepont Street, created the exhibition, “Until Everyone Has It Made: Jackie Robinson’s Legacy” a year ago to honor the country’s hero and the museum’s exhibit remains popular.
“We felt that was an opportunity to shine a spotlight on all of the many legacies of Jackie Robinson’s work in life, both as an athlete and an activist who called out the injustice of segregation, discrimination and racial injustice in this country,” said Vice President of Programs and External Affairs for BHS Marcia Ely.
BHS worked with National Grid and St. Francis College, which helped underwrite the exhibition.
It was important for BHS to display both the struggle and triumph of Robinson before and after his major league career.
“It’s a story about his life both as an extraordinary baseball player who had enormous courage in the face of the role he played breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball but also what he did after,” Ely said. “He finished his baseball career continuing to fight for racial justice and being a role model for African Americans across the country. So this exhibition starts by describing Jackie’s life, who he was, where he was raised, what elements created the character of the man who was so courageous. Robinson was the son of a sharecropper and a grandson of a plantation slave. He was just that far away from that ugly legacy of this country. His mother moved from Georgia to Pasadena.”
The exhibition, Ely said, follows Robinson’s grueling road to the majors, including his time with the Negro Leagues and a minor leaguer.
“This tells the story of how he moves into his baseball career and then moves into the chapter where he enters the Dodgers and breaks the color barrier,” she said. “This exhibition talks about that first day, April 15 1947, how of the 26,600 fans who were at Ebbets Field, 14,000 were African Americans. It moves on to what it was like to be Jackie Robinson in those first years. The kind of insults and threats, taunting and verbal abuse that he faced and how he persevered to integrate baseball.”
The baseball historian can revel in the space as BHS has provided tons of rare and fascinating Robinson memorabilia.
BHS worked with former Los Angeles Dodgers owner and son of Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, Peter O’Malley, who lent several items including a rating card with original scout ratings of Robinson’s performance through spring training and a Montreal Royals program from 1946.
“We have never-before-seen footage from the family of a man named Meyer Robinson who in the early 1950s was a huge Dodgers fan and he took hours of home video of games and over the years, his film was cherished and saved by his daughter Gale Robinson,” said Ely. “She handed over to us a pile of film.”
BHS transferred and edited that Robinson footage to put on display. They also have footage courtesy of sports writer Rusty Steiger who covered the Dodgers for the New York Daily Mirror which includes material from 1951 and the Dodgers spring training facility in Vero Beach where he shot this rare color footage of Robinson and the Dodgers playing.
Other memorabilia includes magazine covers, yearbooks, a National League championship bat, an old Wheaties advertisement, World Series tickets, sheet music for the song from 1949, “Did you see Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” and more.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame also loaned some goods, including a letter Robinson wrote to black sportswriter Wendell Smith.
A Brooklyn Dodgers hat is also on display that star actor Chadwick Boseman wore in when he played Robinson in the 2013 film “42.”
A year in, the reception has been solid.
“It’s been wonderful,” she said. “One of the things we are doing is offering a school program for grade school students to come and get a guided tour. It’s a very popular program here.”
Interaction, Ely said, is also encouraged.
“We also have a way for people to leave comments and they are wonderful,” she said. “They ask people if they’ve faced discrimination in your life and people leave their experiences on cards. We can read through their notes. It’s fulfilling to walk through the galleries and see people in there engaged and riveted by materials they’re looking at and be inspired by the man we are celebrating.”
“Until Everyone Has It Made: Jackie Robinson’s Legacy” can be seen at BHS, 128 Pierrepont Street, Wednesday through Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Entry is $10 for adults and free for children and students. For more information, visit www.brooklynhistory.org.