The Civil Rights Letters of Jackie Robinson
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Correspondence on social issues to and from the former Brooklyn Dodger who broke the race barrier in major league baseball.

Editor Long (Religious Studies/Elizabethtown College; God and Country?: Diverse Perspectives on Christianity and Patriotism, 2007, etc.) discovered the core of this collection while researching Richard Nixon, a frequent Robinson correspondent. Believing he’d found something significant, Long rounded up other letters from elsewhere and assembled this affectionate assortment, which reveals as much about Robinson and his correspondents as it does about the United States in the period it spans (1946–1972). Robinson knew racial bigotry intimately and had suffered for it grievously, but as he left baseball and moved into a political world percolating with racial turmoil, he found himself initially attracted to the GOP, particularly as exemplified by Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller. Their exchanges tend to be made with one eye on the history books. In March 1957, for example, Nixon wrote, “It is a privilege to be working along with someone like yourself to achieve the important objective of guaranteed equal opportunity for all Americans.” At first, Robinson mistrusted both John and Robert Kennedy (oddly, nothing appears here about their assassinations); he later warmed to both, however, as he cooled toward Nixon and Rockefeller. He generally supported the war in Vietnam, where his son was wounded in action, and wrote a long letter chiding Martin Luther King Jr. for his anti-war position. Robinson had a fragile, uneasy relationship with King, but it was cordial compared to his interactions with NAACP head Roy Wilkins and fire-breathing radical Malcolm X. It’s disturbing to read unctuous letters from white politicos panting for black votes and trying to co-opt Robinson—troubling, too, to realize that many of the baseball hero’s letters and virtually all of his syndicated newspaper columns (some reproduced here) were ghostwritten.

Raises more questions than it answers about a courageous man.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8710-9
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2007