A previous version of this story referred to Jackie Robinson as an L.A. Dodgers superstar and has been corrected to say Brooklyn Dodgers.
Who Would Jackie Robinson support for president in 2016?
John Schutz, author of the newly published “Jackie Robinson: An Integrated Life,” tackles the question.
“My guess is he would be a cautious Hillary Clinton supporter,” Schutz says. “He would like her toughness but not trust her because he wouldn’t think her civil rights record was long enough to critique. He would not see Donald Trump as a good businessman. He would like Bernie Sanders probably, but Jackie Robinson would want to be convinced he can win.”
'Jackie Robinson, An Integrated Life'
› Author: J. Christopher Schutz
› Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield
› Pages: 184
› Cost: $38
› Available: Bookstores and online
Political veterans say the convention was a battle for the soul of the GOP, and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson was there, one of 12 black Republican delegates helping to choose the party's presidential candidate, and he agreed with that dramatic assessment.
The Brooklyn Dodgers superstar, the first black man to play in the snow-white major league, was a Republican who supported Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower and now Nelson Rockefeller in the 1964 presidential election. Robinson yearned for a GOP that would welcome blacks and Hispanics and repudiate right-wing extremists and racists.
Robinson would have his heart broken.
When Rockefeller began speaking, Robinson — the man who had braved death threats from snipers for walking onto a baseball diamond — found his life again in danger.
"I am fighting to keep the Republican party the party of all the people and warning of the extremist threat to the party and the nation," Rockefeller said as the crowd booed and screamed obscenities. "These extremists feed on fear, hate and terror. [They have] no program for America or the Republican Party. It is essential that this convention repudiate any militant minority whether Communist, Ku Klux Klan or [John] Birchers."
In "Jackie Robinson, An Integrated Life," a biography published this month, Tennessee Wesleyan University history professor J. Christopher Schutz describes what happened next.
A Southern delegate threw acid at a black delegate; the liquid burned through the man's suit. Whites screamed the N-word at blacks; they threw garbage at black journalist Belva Davis. An Alabama delegate approached Robinson, ready to fight the sports legend; Robinson, never one to back down from a battle, was ready to climb over chairs to punch the guy.
"Robinson was physically very courageous," Schutz says. "It hurt him deeply when the Black Panthers and Malcolm X called him an Uncle Tom. Whatever decisions he made, he believed in.
"The publisher approached me about writing this book because I teach civil rights history here," Schutz says by phone from Athens, Tenn. "I found his role as a civil rights activist and his involvement in politics fascinating."
But politics is just one of the myriad of faces of Robinson described in "An Integrated Life." A Republican who switched to Democrat after the 1964 convention, he also was a civil rights activist, father, businessman and TV commercial pitchman. It all came about, though, through his play on the baseball field.
When first drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, he won Rookie of the Year Award; he was an All-Star for six consecutive seasons from 1949 through 1954 and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949. He was part of the Dodgers team that beat the New York Yankees in 1955 to win the World Series, then he retired from baseball two years later.
He died in 1972 and, after his death, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom. His life was the focus of "42" — the number on his baseball jersey — a 2013 movie which had scenes filmed at Chattanooga's Engel Stadium.
Robinson's life includes being a Republican when most black Americans embraced the Democratic Party of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Robinson believed in the Republican Party's pro-business and anti-Communist stance but, after the 1964 melee, he became chairman of the Republicans for Lyndon Johnson Committee and helped Democrats win the White House. It was not a simple transition. Like most of Robinson's life, it was a dramatic and complex journey.
He busted down financial barriers that thwarted black athletes who needed to earn a living after they left the playing field. He helped create the black-owned Freedom National Bank based in Harlem. He negotiated endorsements for enriched bread and Old Gold cigarettes. He invested in a real estate venture that created hundreds of homes affordable to working-class blacks and was hired as a personnel director by coffeemaker Chock Full o'Nuts, a position that required policy analysis and corporate skill.
"An Integrated Life" also details how Robinson desperately bombarded the Interstate Commerce Commission with phone calls, exhorting it to protect the Freedom Riders, who were being beaten bloody in the 1960s when they tried to integrate interstate bus lines in the South.
Yet the same man who was a fast, efficient fundraiser for Martin Luther King, Jr. also testified before Sen. Joe McCarthy, whose infamous hunt for Communists destroyed the careers of some blameless Americans. And Robinson named some names, which tarnished his image.
Robinson seemed impervious to presidential candidate Kennedy's charms yet was flattered when Vice President Nixon courted him. But when Nixon refused to get the wrongfully arrested King out of an Atlanta jail, Robinson never supported him again.
In his research on Robinson, Schutz says he was most surprised "how tragic his life was."
"He died so young, only age 53," Schutz says, and he had the death threats and heard loud boos in many ballparks when he first entered the league and also years later when he became a civil rights activist. Because he supported Republican candidates, he was rejected by other black activists.
In addition, his son, Jackie Jr., was a special-needs student when he was young, then was wounded in the Vietnam War and developed drug problems when he came home. At age 24, he died in a car crash in 1971, a year before Robinson died.
"Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy" — F. Scott Fitzgerald's line seems tailor-made for Robinson's epic life. Yet Schutz also sees it as a hopeful tale for the millennials in his class who are idealistic despite a fragile economy and vitriolic politics.
"Many of my students want to transform the world but they don't trust existing institutions," he says. "King, Robinson, the young activists who believed in them learned not to wait until they found an organization they could trust to help them. They were a true do-it-yourself movement."
Contact Lynda Edwards at 423-757-6391 or firstname.lastname@example.org.