Publish date:


The seasonlong appreciation of Jackie Robinson, sparked by the
50th anniversary of his entrance into the major leagues, is
almost over. After this year, players will no longer wear
patches commemorating Robinson's breaking of baseball's color
barrier, montages of him in action will air only rarely on
stadium video screens, and the Wheaties boxes he now adorns will
be gone from the shelves. The year has, however, yielded
enduring markers of Robinson's legacy: His uniform number, 42,
has been retired by baseball, a Brooklyn-Queens thoroughfare has
been anointed Jackie Robinson Parkway, and Arnold Rampersad has
produced a tome.

Long and dense, Rampersad's book is a must for any serious
sports library, even one that contains the many Robinson
biographies that have preceded it. Well-indexed and adhering
strictly to the chronology of Robinson's life, the book succeeds
on the strength of Rampersad's exhaustive research.

But Jackie Robinson is not a work of literature. Rampersad, a
Princeton professor and the author of the Life of Langston
Hughes and, with Arthur Ashe, Days of Grace: A Memoir, evokes
little emotion, and he never gets to the heart of whatever it
was that drove Robinson in his remarkable crusade against
racism. He also writes some surprisingly clumsy sentences ("By
this point, Jack and Rachel were now living in Brooklyn
itself"), and stretches of the book fall flat.

Robinson's splendor and courage as a ballplayer gave him the
prestige to become a powerful voice in the civil rights
movement, and the most intriguing part of the book follows
Robinson from his retirement from the Dodgers in 1956 to his
death in '72. In his fight against segregation Robinson, at
times a close adviser to Republicans Richard Nixon and Nelson
Rockefeller, was one of the few blacks to publicly feud with
liberals such as John F. Kennedy and the radical Malcolm X. "I
am not in a popularity contest," Rampersad quotes Robinson as

Robinson is a pivotal historical figure. Rampersad's tour de
force of research is essential to understanding what the man
meant to America.


B/W PHOTO: COURTESY OF RACHEL ROBINSON [Cover of book Jackie Robinson]