The Jackie Robinson Museum is dedicated to civil rights and baseball

Jackie Robinson’s family home in Stamford, Connecticut had a lair with trophies, artifacts, and a large scrapbook celebrating his many accomplishments. David Robinson, his son, fondly recalled in an interview how photographs and plaques depicting his father’s success in sports hung on one wall. Another wall – with a collection twice as large – emphasized the social activity of his father, which was of much greater importance to Jackie Robinson and his family.

The spirit embodied in this lair, which emphasizes social activism over sports, has been moved, along with many of the same artifacts, to a new museum in Lower Manhattan dedicated to the legacy of one of the most important figures in American history.

The new Jackie Robinson Museum – New York City’s first museum dedicated primarily to the civil rights movement – will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday before opening its doors to the public on September 10. 5, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the legacy of Robinson and his widow Rachel in a much larger, modernized version of the family den, with the same spirit of using sport as a vehicle to advance social progress.

“But the collection is a thousand times bigger,” said David Robinson, who lives in Tanzania but was in New York for his mother’s birthday party and the opening of the museum. “Some of the things we grew up with are now of great historical importance, and the museum is the place for everyone to see that and much, much more. It will be the marvel of modern information delivery.”

Rachel Robinson, who turned 100 last week, will cut the ribbon at the institution she has long envisioned as a center for the people to learn about the courageous work her husband has done hand in hand with her to help transform American society by integrating the Major League baseball and many other businesses.

Jackie Robinson, who was a young star for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro leagues, broke the white major league color barrier on April 15, 1947, when he made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the National League. He immediately became a symbol of hope for racial equality in the United States, but as visitors to the museum will know, Robinson’s relentless work to break down barriers began long before that. And they continued long after he retired from the game after the 1956 season.

Visitors will see that while Robinson served in the army during World War II, he successfully secured admission of black soldiers to the officer training program, which he completed in 1943 and became a second lieutenant. They learn how, after Robinson retired from baseball, he broke down barriers in advertising, broadcasting, and business, how he founded a bank to help black citizens, so often deprived of basic credit, secure capital.

Museum organizers hope they will also be inspired by his and Rachel’s work alongside many pillars of the civil rights movement, including the Reverend. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Whitney Young are the people David Robinson remembers visiting his parents at the Stamford house.

“It was such an important period of history that the museum encapsulates,” said David Robinson. “If we don’t have memories of this struggle, we will lose touch with a significant period in American history that can help us today, and this is a tribute to all the people who granted my mother’s wish and made it come true.”

One such person is Della Britton, the tireless President and CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a non-profit organization created by Rachel Robinson to continue her husband’s legacy through education and university scholarships for 242 students each year.

The museum has already launched online programs with schools across the country and, in line with Rachel Robinson’s ultimate goal, hopes to be a beacon to encourage and support the next wave of leaders in the fight for social justice.

“When we first embarked on this mission to build a museum, Rachel told me, ‘I don’t want it to be just Jack’s shrine, I want it to be a place that brings people together and continues dialogue around the most difficult issues.’” The problem with our society then and now is race relations,” Britton said. “This is what has kept me here for the last 18 years. And as we have evolved politically over this time, it seems even more compelling and important.”

Opening a museum was not an easy task. Funding problems dating back to the 2008 financial crisis, followed by the pandemic and subsequent supply chain problems around the world, forced the museum to delay opening for several years, Britton said. The foundation raised $38 million of the $42 million it wanted to build for the museum, of which $25 million went towards construction capital investment.

Now the museum is finally ready to open, with 4,500 exhibits and 40,000 historical images on display. It includes over 8,000 square feet of permanent exhibition space in a prime location on the TriBeCa border, with another 3,500 square feet of classrooms and a gallery.

A 2018 study on behalf of the museum estimates between 100,000 and 120,000 visitors per year, Britton said, but the museum is preparing for more, especially since there is currently no other museum like it in New York City.

“There is no other civil rights museum in the city where Lady Liberty greets you,” Britton said. “It is important”. The museum boasts a compelling collection of artefacts and exhibits that link Robinson’s athletic success to his pioneering civil rights work. Visitors will be able to see the letters he exchanged with Branch Rickey, the Dodgers president and general manager who originally signed Robinson, that reflect their complicated relationship.

They can also learn about some of Robinson’s friends and allies, including Ralph Branca, a Dodgers pitcher who was the first teammate to befriend Robinson, and Hank Greenberg, a Jewish Detroit Tigers slugger who faced anti-Semitism in baseball and was the first opponent. to express words of support and encouragement to Robinson. There’s an exhibit of John Wright, a lesser-known Negro league pitcher that Ricky signed three months after he signed Robinson. Along with Robinson, Wright was the target of racist abuse in the minor leagues. He eventually returned to Homestead Grace, unable to break into the Dodgers.

The museum also houses the uniform and bat Robinson used in 1947, his Rookie of the Year award, his 1949 National League Most Valuable Player award, his original Hall of Fame plaque, his Presidential Medal of Freedom, and many other items.

Each day, the e-feed will offer attendees and school groups the question of the day to spark conversations about racing.

“It could be something like, ‘Was Colin Kaepernick right when he knelt down during the national anthem?'” Britton said. “The idea is to start a conversation and get people to think.”

Britton and his family will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, with tennis star Billie Jean King among the guests; directed by Spike Lee; Eric Holder, former US Attorney General; former players CC Sabathia and Willie Randolph; and John Branca, board member and nephew of Ralph Branca.

On a recent tour, Britton spoke about many of the museum’s unique features, including the 3D Ebbets Field, which shows the locations where many of Robinson’s accomplishments took place, as well as things like the hot dog stand where Rachel Robinson warmed up dairy bottles for Jackie Robinson, Jr., their eldest son, who died in 1971.

David Robinson, born in 1952, was too young to remember his father’s playing days. His fondest memories are of family dinners, fishing trips and especially golf, where David loved to play caddies for his father.

“We played where we could, in segregated, discriminatory Connecticut,” David recalled. “He could only be a European guest at these golf clubs. But we went to the Caribbean, to Spain. It was a lot of fun to be around.”

Other important memories included home meetings with other civil rights leaders and a lively discussion about ways to improve the lives of millions of Americans—a central theme the museum tries to convey. Thus, David, his sister Sharon and their mother believe that Jackie Robinson would see the museum as an important continuation of the common heritage.

“Very rarely did he say ‘I’,” David Robinson recalled. “He said, ‘We’ve done some great things.’ But I think he would be thrilled if his accomplishments were showcased in terms of America’s evolution to try and inspire action today.”