As the 2016 major league baseball season begins, the eyes of the nation – and his former hometown of Stamford – will once again turn to the remarkable legacy of Jackie Robinson. A new documentary by acclaimed film director Ken Burns, titled Jackie Robinson, premieres Monday, April 11 at 9 p.m. and continues Tuesday, April 12 at 9 p.m. on PBS and CPTV. To kick-off the program’s debut, the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network (CPBN) will host a special tribute to Jackie Robinson at The Palace Theatre, Stamford on Friday, April 8 at 7 p.m. The event will include live jazz music by award-winning saxophonist Albert Rivera, and commentary and a Q&A session with ESPN commentator and former Major League Baseball player Doug Glanville.
Although not a Connecticut native, Robinson lived in Stamford for nearly 20 years, having moved to the community while a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. Robinson, known world-wide for breaking the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947, died of a heart attack in 1972, at age 53.
The evening will include an advance preview screening of the new two-part documentary by Ken Burns. The story of the first African American to play baseball in the major leagues features interviews with President Barack Obama, Harry Belafonte, Tom Brokaw, and others who share how Robinson’s determination and heroism influenced generations.
Upon arriving in Stamford, Robinson and his family lived with Richard Simon, co-founder of Simon and Schuster, and his wife, Andrea and their family at their North Stamford home before building a home on Cascade Road in North Stamford. The Simons’ daughter, singer/songwriter Carly Simon, recalled going with Robinson to Ebbets Field to see the Brooklyn Dodgers when she was young, the Greenwich Time recently reported.
Stamford has a public park named in his honor, recalling that Robinson represented tolerance, educational opportunity, and the confidence that inspires personal achievement and success. A life-size bronze statue of Jackie Robinson with an engraved base bearing the words “COURAGE,” “CONFIDENCE,” AND “PERSEVERANCE” stands in the park located on West Main Street, the gateway to downtown Stamford.
Just weeks ago, Jackie Robinson’s daughter Sharon and her mother Rachel accompanied President Obama to Cuba, and joined him and the United States delegation at an exhibition baseball game. She told mlb.com:
“It brought back very personal memories of my father talking about his trip to Cuba in 1947, when the Brooklyn Dodgers trained in Havana. At the time, dad was a member of the Dodgers' farm team, the Montreal Royals. Branch Rickey arranged for him to fly to Cuba for an exhibition game, just a couple of months before he broke down baseball's color barrier in the United States. To me, this connection to my father almost brought me to tears. I was watching a baseball game in the same stadium nearly 70 years later.”
In the two-part documentary, Ken Burns “reveals fascinating stories about the legend’s life on and off the field.” In part one, Robinson “rises from humble origins to integrate Major League Baseball, performing brilliantly despite the threats and abuse he faces on and off the field and, in the process, challenges the prejudiced notions of what a black man can achieve,” according to PBS. In part two, Robinson” uses his fame to speak out against injustice, alienating many who had once lauded him for ‘turning the other cheek.’” After baseball, during his years in Stamford, “he seeks ways to fight inequality, but as he faces a crippling illness, he struggles to remain relevant.”
The documentary “paints the picture of a man who challenged institutional racism in the face of harsh criticism. It also delves into his close-knit relationship with his wife, Rachel, and their children through candid interviews and personal family photos.”
In 1997, Major League Baseball “universally” retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams; he was the first pro athlete in any sport to be so honored. Initiated for the first time on April 15, 2004, Major League Baseball has adopted a new annual tradition, “Jackie Robinson Day,” in which all players on all teams wear #42.
Of his interest in sharing Robinson’s story, director Ken Burns said, “There was so much more to say not only about Robinson’s barrier-breaking moment in 1947, but about how his upbringing shaped his intolerance for any form of discrimination and how after his baseball career, he spoke out tirelessly against racial injustice, even after his star had begun to dim.”
My dad once said, "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives," Sharon Robinson recently recalled.