The story of Jackie Robinson is the story of the human will. It’s a story of perseverance. More than anything, it’s a story of progress.
The tale of how Robinson broke into Major League Baseball in 1947 as the first black player since the 19th century and how he subsequently changed minds and hearts is retold in the film “42: The True Story of an American Legend.” The film stars Harrison Ford as Brooklyn Dodgers visionary Branch Rickey and Chadwick Boseman as Robinson.
The movie opens in theaters across the country April 12, but a couple hundred folks in Anderson will get to see a special advance showing the night before. Mounds Mall will host a reception, followed by the advance showing on April 11. The special showing is already sold out, with a contribution of $50 for each ticket made to the Special Olympics.
Anderson icon and former Dodgers pitching great Carl Erskine was a teammate of Robinson for nine seasons. He and Robinson became friends. Carl was one of the good guys who accepted Robinson as a member of the team and into “white” baseball without reservation. Not everyone was so willing to see the game — or society — change. Baseball, like other aspects of American life, had a deeply rooted tradition of segregation.
But Erskine saw things differently. Having grown up in Anderson, Erskine had black friends, most notably basketball legend Jumpin’ Johnny Wilson. Later, when Erskine joined the Dodgers in 1948, he saw Robinson as a man, not as a black man. As Robinson’s 10-year MLB career progressed, most of the nation came to see him that way, too.
Robinson was a class act, and stood up to racism and ignorance with courage and integrity, but without violence. He was a role model for people of all races.
Erskine is, too. He has written three books about his baseball career. One is titled, “What I Learned from Jackie Robinson.” His most recent book is called “The Parallel.” In it, he draws connections between two waves of change in American society: the acceptance of racial differences and, later, the acceptance of development differences.
Erskine was on the front line to witness a historical breakthrough when Robinson played for the Dodgers. The father of a special-needs son, Jimmy, Erskine was also on the frontline of the Special Olympics movement.
Erskine and others of his generation have seem a great transformation in this country. Bigotry still exists, but it’s not the norm anymore. Increasingly, folks are viewed simply as human beings, regardless of skin color, special needs or other differences.
The film “42” draws attention again to Robinson’s remarkable story. As Americans, we can all be proud of Jackie Robinson and of the progress we’ve made as a nation. But there’s still more work to be done.
Remembering Robinson’s story and honoring his legacy help keep the momentum going.