Jackie Robinson. (Photo: Getty Images)
Jackie Robinson. (Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday will mark what would have been the 100th birthday of Jackie Robinson and a year-long celebration is ready to get underway.

 As one of the most influential men in American history who broke Major League Baseball's color line in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson's life will be observed and celebrated throughout 2019 in efforts spearheaded by his daughter, Sharon Robinson, and the Jackie Robinson Foundation. 

"I think it's amazing and I love it," Sharon told Metro. "We've done a lot of hard work... you work hard to keep his name out there and understanding on who he was."

On Thursday night, the Museum of the City of New York and the Jackie Robinson Foundation will help kick off those celebrations as an exhibit, In the Dugout with Jackie Robinson, will open featuring never-before-seen photographs, home movies, and memorabilia from Jackie's life. 

 

The schedule of events in 2019 will serve as an extension of Jackie Robinson Day, celebrated annually by Major League Baseball every Apr. 15 since 2004, and will culminate with the opening of the Jackie Robinson Museum in downtown Manhattan in December.

"We're really excited that the stars lined up this year and we're able to celebrate Jackie's 100th birthday and kick off this celebration," Jackie Robinson Foundation president Della Britton Baeza said. "It's an exciting year that will preview our museum."

It's a grand way to celebrate the life of the Baseball Hall-of-Famer,  who died in 1972, which provides a change of pace for his daughter. 

"When you lose someone, you don't know what to do with their birthday initially," Robinson said. "My dad was the first person I lost like that...I wanted to keep it private."

"But then every time his birthday would come up, I would find myself crying unhappy that I hadn't planned anything and we weren't recognizing it properly."

Robinson, a published writer, did make an exception in 1979 on her father's 60th birthday when she held a gospel concert at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. 

Jackie will forever be known as the first black man to partake in organized professional baseball since 1884 when a "gentleman's agreement" among major-league owners not only barred Moses Fleetwood Walker from the playing with the Toledo Blue Stockings but also kept blacks out of the majors for over 60 years. 

The Negro Leagues provided a top league for black ballplayers in the meantime but robbed the majors of generational and mythical talents like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell.

It's the league where  Jackie got his baseball start, joining the Paige and the Kansas City Monarchs, after starring in four different sports at UCLA. 

His skill, tenacity, and composure caught the eye of Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson after an extensive interview process in 1945 that ensured he would be able to take the onslaught of racial animus that was headed his way.

Not only did Jackie stand strong under the extreme hostility, but he also thrived. After making his debut at 28 years old on Apr. 15, 1947, a day Major League Baseball celebrates every year, Jackie strung together a 10-year Hall-of-Fame career, including the 1947 Rookie of the Year award, 1949 MVP honors, and a 1955 World Series title, the only championship won by the Dodgers during their 74-year stay in Brooklyn. 

 
 

Sharon was born three years after Jackie's MLB debut and grew up watching her father in the spotlight. 

"He was a devoted husband and a devoted father," Robinson said. "After the baseball days, he was away a lot, he tried to make special time for each of his children. I had father-daughter days in New York City which is why I love New York City so much."

But her father did far more than partake in America's pastime. After his playing days, he worked tirelessly as a civil rights activist, most notably alongside the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., who visited the Robinson home in 1963. 

"His work with the civil rights movement, which consumed a great deal of his passion post-baseball was something that he brought to our dinner table at night," Sharon said. "It allowed us to talk about it and understand what was going on around the country."

Jackie's 100th birthday is celebrated in a time when America once again is divided on a litany of issues, which have only been inflamed by President Donald Trump. While athletes have taken a central role throughout the process, like Jackie to a lesser extent, Sharon and the Jackie Robinson Foundation continues to support the youth of America with scholarships and support services.

"It is trying times," Robinson added. "And it's confusing for children who are trying to find their voice and their stance on issues... That's why we're so excited about the Jackie Robinson Museum opening up. It will be a place for a look back into history, but also have a voice... There will be a lot of ways for children to start recognizing their voice is important and we'll be there to support them." 

 

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