Jackie Robinson Marker Finds a New Home
Marker in Robinson’s Georgia Hometown Damaged by Vandals
Like fellow Georgian, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson was a peacemaker. Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia, on January 31, 1919, nearly 13 months before Andrew Foster organized the United States Baseball League, a league for Negro players, designed to compete with the White major league for the heart of baseball fans in America. The organizational meeting took place at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, Missouri.
Robinson’s father, Jerry Robinson, was a sharecropper; his mother, Millie McGriff, took care of a family of five children. Shortly after his birth, his mother moved the family to Pasadena, California.
Robinson earned the honor of signing the first professional contract by a Black baseball player since Fleetwood Walker’s 1888 contract expired. Robinson had to pledge to refrain from violence, even if attacked by opposing White players.
In 1946, Robinson signed a contract to play baseball with the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers farm team. The following season Robinson made his debut in major league baseball when he stepped onto the Ebbets Field turf on April 15, 1947. Robinson was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year at season’s end. In 1949 he was the National League’s Most Valuable Player. He kept his pledge, ignored insulting rants from opposing White players, and scurrilous antics from opposing fans.
Before Robinson signed with the Dodgers, he played in the baseball league organized by Foster. After military service, he played shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945. In Foster’s league, commonly known as the Negro Leagues, Robinson came to the attention of Branch Rickey, General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
When the Dodgers traded him to the New York Giants following the 1956 season, Robinson refused to be bought and sold like a piece of chattel, so he retired from the game of baseball. Robinson batted .313, hit 141 homers, and drove in 761 runs during his major league career.
In retirement, Robinson became a business executive, a leader in Republican politics, and a champion of civil rights for Black Americans.
The people in Cairo, Georgia, never forgot their native son. In 2001 they erected a plaque in his honor and in honor of the town that gave birth to the first Black man to play baseball in the White major league in the 20th century. That marker, placed near the Georgia-Florida border stood unblemished for 20 years. Vandals shot up the marker in February 2021, 101 years after the Negro League fielded its first teams to give Black baseball talent a place to earn a living.
Recently, Major League Baseball replaced the damaged marker in Cairo, Georgia, so the Georgia Historical Society and the Jackie Robinson Institute decided to donate the damaged marker to the National Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. It is a fitting tribute to the Robinson legacy to donate the plaque to where his professional baseball roots began, so all baseball lovers can see what they did to Jackie Robinson’s marker in Georgia.
Harold Michael Harvey is the Living Now 2020 Bronze Medal winner for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is the author of a book on Negro Leagues Baseball, The Duke of 18th & Vine: Bob Kendrick Pitches Negro Leagues Baseball. He writes feature stories for Black College Nines. Com. Harvey is a member of the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, HBCU and PRO Sports Media Association, and the Legends Committee for the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Harvey is an engaging speaker. Contact Harvey at firstname.lastname@example.org.