Saturday, August 23, 2008

I didn't know them well, but, I did attend an Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity dance at UC Berkeley's International House with Jackie Robinson after one of the football games between the Bears and the Bruins ... .

such a warm, wonderful, and truly handsome young man. But that was several years before either of us had married and -- I was young and pretty -- probably not a day over 18 -- and it was just a Saturday evening date with an out-of-town high-profile football hero(click to enlarge).

I remember his speaking of Rachel, the young nursing student he'd met while attending UCLA and later married in 1946. My very own halfback (whom I later married), Mel Reid, at the time was engaged to someone else, though we'd been friends since I was fourteen.

Truly exceptional women married to famous men tend to get lost in history. This beautiful young bride, Rachel Isum Robinson, is such a women. I wonder if anyone ever has given thought to what those awful years were like for her when her young husband was being literally spat upon and publicly humiliated? I've often wondered how Rachel managed to hold onto her sanity.

Before their marriage (during WWII in 1942) Rachel studied nursing during the day while working as a riveter in an aircraft factory at night, though if one were to ask, I would guess that Rachel didn't think of herself as "Rosie the Riveter" any more than I did at the time. Rosie was symbolic of white women in the home front work force.

Jackie spent the earlier years of his baseball career barnstorming with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. At the time of their married in 1946, Jackie was playing with the Montreal Royals farm club in preparation for the move up -- a move planned and executed by Branch Rickey. Jackie joined the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black athlete allowed to enter the major leagues in 1947, only a year after their wedding.

Those thoughts rose again for me when Careth handed me the 8"x 10" age-yellowed envelope from the Joseph collection. There were a dozen or so photos of Jackie and Rachel's wedding in the envelope. They were so young. So vulnerable. They were so traditionally American -- two youngsters who chose to be the sacrificial lambs in a baseball world that showed few signs of being civilized or even properly socialized. I can't imagine what that would have been like for her. It was his choice, but it would be her life as well. And she was the support he desperately needed in order to survive in that unbelievably mean world of professional sports.

Corporate leader, activist, professor, nurse, wife, and mother, Rachel Isum Robinson is a woman of enormous accomplishments, her own and those achieved jointly with her husband, Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947 when he played with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Together the couple supported numerous causes, but particularly civil rights in and out of the sports sphere. Since her husband's premature death at age 54, Ms. Robinson has used her ability and his legacy to further the causes they so ardently supported.

A career nurse, Ms. Robinson earned her masters degree in psychiatric nursing worked as a researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's Department of Social and Community Psychiatry, which she held for five years. Ms. Robinson then became Director of Nursing for the Connecticut Mental Health Center and an Assistant Professor of Nursing at Yale University.

Following the death of her husband in 1972, Robinson incorporated the Jackie Robinson Development Corporation, which had been founded to build housing for people of moderate and low incomes. A year later, Ms. Robinson created the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide scholarships and leadership training.

After years at the head of the Foundation's board, Ms. Robinson stepped down as chairwoman in 1996. That same year, she authored "Jackie Robinson An Intimate Portrait" published by Abrams Publishing Company. Robinson has received numerous awards including the Candace Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Equitable Life Black achiever's Award and the Associated Black Charities Black History Makers Award. In addition, St. John's University, Springfield College, MacAlester College, Boston College, Suffolk University, New York University, Connecticut College and the University of Massachusetts have conferred upon her honorary doctorates.

Ms. Robinson has two children and ten grandchildren.

Can you imagine a more illustrious background than this word picture gives us of Rachel Robinson? Can you imagine the waste in human potential we've endured over the years as women like this were dependent for recognition upon the reflected glow from their famous husband's public image? Or to be asked to share his shame and humiliation by virtue of sharing his name?

We've had a lifetime to view the Jackie Robinson story through his eyes -- but in looking at these historic photos -- can we begin to see those awesomely cruel years through hers?

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