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Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life after Baseball ed. by Michael G. Long (review)
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Beyond Home Plate presents Jackie Robinson’s views on social justice as expressed primarily in his newspaper columns. Following a Hall of Fame baseball career, Robinson, for a time, contributed to a nationally syndicated column for the then liberal New York Post (1959–1960) and the African-American New York Amsterdam News (1962–1968). Beyond Home Plate features a selection of these columns as well a few other articles published under Robinson’s byline in other venues.

Robinson collaborated on multiple autobiographies, carried on extensive correspondence, and testified before Congress. Nonetheless, the largely neglected primary sources rendered accessible in Beyond Home Plate contribute distinctive shading, perspective, and detail to our understanding of Robinson. In addition to his introduction to the volume, editor Michael Long provides substantive contextualization through commentary preceding each of Robinson’s essays.

The attribution of the columns to Robinson largely eschews examination of the process of composition. Although intelligent and observant, Robinson was not a professional journalist. William Branch, playwright and editor, assisted Robinson with his column at the Post, and activist writer Al Duckett subsequently provided support at the Amsterdam News. Beyond Home Plate would benefit by fuller elaboration from Long concerning the dialogue between Robinson and his collaborators. However, given Robinson’s knowledge that his opinion had the potential to significantly impact issues about which he cared deeply about, the column’s viewpoint presumably reflected Robison’s voice if not his writing style.

The Post and Amsterdam News gave Robinson reign to address any topic in his column. The column occasionally dealt with sports, primarily baseball and golf, but those commentaries focused on social issues, not on-field play. Subject content for the columns encompassed, amongst other topics, civil rights, government policies, domestic politics, international relations, emerging nations, ideology, values, family, women, youth, notable public figures, entertainment, media, and Robinson’s own activities. This was a serious column—passionate, didactic, and principled. The commentaries always expressed a strong and direct viewpoint, invariably relating to social justice.

The columns reinforce the image of Robinson as a crusader. Despite Robinson’s fierce intensity, courage, constant engagement, and morality, however, the columns reveal him as a mid twentieth-century liberal. Robinson’s agenda was no more radical than the Declaration of Independence and the American Dream, but Robinson was implacable in demanding that the nation keep faith with its promise and potential. This will come as no surprise to serious biographers of Robinson. The columns, however, place Robinson within the day-to-day struggles of his times more so than most of the extant secondary literature, voluminous and important though it is.

Battles, some of them dimmed by the passage of time, often raged within Robinson’s columns. The writings brim with criticisms of specific individuals, incidents, and practices, including Robinson’s assertions about the gradualism of President Dwight Eisenhower, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s opportunism, Sen. Lyndon Johnson’s bigotry, the viciousness of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, abusive Little League parents, the obtuseness of sportswriter Dick Young, the political indifference of Willie Mays, the exclusivity of the Professional Golfers’ Association, and the brutal bombings of black churches. Many of the columns possess an indignant explicitness that marks them as the product of a particular era. In some cases, as with the 1960 depiction of Kennedy and Johnson as opponents of Civil Rights, history proved Robinson wrong. Nonetheless, Robinson never shied from expressing his convictions and was open to reassessing opinions. Based on their evolving policies, Robinson, for example, ultimately came to support both Kennedy and Johnson.

Historians and biographers have previously recognized Robinson’s affinity for the Republican Party, pro-business orientation, anti-Communism, rejection of black separatism, respect for women, and emphasis on the importance on strong families, but the columns convey the nuances of content and tone. Robinson articulated a distinctive voice that deferred only to the dictates of his own conscience. Even as anti-war sentiment grew, Robinson supported U.S. policies in Vietnam and the service of his soldier son. He admired Martin Luther King, Jr. but did not share the latter’s commitment “to return hatred with love” (p. 110). Conversely, he denounced H. Rap Brown’s enthusiasm for race...


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