Robinson stood up for equal rights even before he did so in baseball.He was arrested and court-martialed during training in the Army for refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus.He was eventually acquitted of the charges and received an honorable discharge.
After integrating baseball, Robinson became a full-fledged leader in the civil rights movement. As a board member of the NAACP, he traveled across the country in an effort to build morale among African Americans fighting for racial justice in their local communities.And as a friend of Martin Luther King Jr., Robinson helped to lead civil rights campaigns in Albany (Ga.) and Birmingham. While in Albany, he was so moved by the efforts of black parishioners to register African-American voters — despite the fact that their church had been burned to the ground — that he offered to raise enough money to rebuild several torched churches.In 1964, Robinson then founded Freedom National Bank in Harlem as a protest against white financial institutions that discriminated against African Americans by denying them loans or setting interest rates artificially high.And while he criticized Harlem resident Malcolm X for advocating racial separatism and the use of “any means necessary,” Robinson saved his harshest public criticism for white politicians, including Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, when they hesitated, as they often did, to advance civil rights legislation.These few examples of Robinson’s post-baseball life can help us begin to understand a claim he made in 1968: “I think I’ve become much more aggressive since I left baseball.” Coming from a man who stole home plate in the 1955 World Series, this claim gives us some indication of the importance he attributed to his baseball life.What fueled Robinson’s aggression after baseball? No doubt, deadly violence against civil rights activists played a role. But if we dig a bit deeper, we can see that he was especially driven by his long-held belief that the people of God have an obligation to “set the captive free.”
Thanks to religious mentors, especially his mother Mallie, Robinson embraced a social gospel that called for freedom and justice right here and right now.
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