Jackie and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jackie Robinson and Floyd Patterson, championship boxer, preparing to fly to Birmingham to join Dr. King.

Jackie at a bombed church in Georgia in 1962-- Affected by the misery represented by the ruins, Jackie organized a drive to raise money to rebuild churches that had been destroyed by hate groups.

Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson, and Lewis Michaux at the end of the Harlem crisis.

 

Back to Civil Rights Page

Back to NAACP Page

Jackie Robinson heartily approved of Dr. King, and frequently threw the weight of his fame behind Dr. King to support his efforts. Jackie raised money for him, marched with him, and wrote of him in his New York Post column. He even wrote to the White House to urge more governmental support of King's activities. When Dr. King was jailed in Georgia, for instance, Jackie urged Nixon, who was running for president at the time, to call Dr. King or his wife to offer condolences and encouragement. Nixon and his aides refused, calling the idea "grandstanding." Jackie's point, however, was proven when Kennedy, Nixon's opponent, called Coretta King to offer condolences and was widely praised.

Another example of Robinson's devotion to King is found in his conduct during the Birmingham protests. Jackie and Floyd Patterson, a championship boxer, flew to Birmingham, Alabama to join King's movement. The protesters sitting peacefully in the street had been attacked by the police with dogs and fire hoses, and many had been jailed. Jackie did not want to seem a martyr, so he refused to acknowledge the courage such an action would take. "I don't like to be bitten by dogs, because I am a coward. I don't like to go to jail either, because, as I say, I am a coward. But we've got to show Martin Luther King that we are behind him." Though many praised Robinson for his joining the protest, others did not, including Malcolm X, who called Robinson a pawn of white men.

Robinson and Malcolm X had many clashes over the appropriate way to end segregation, since their views were so different. Of Malcolm, Robinson said that "He has big audiences, but no constructive program. He has big words, but no records of deeds in civil rights...nor gone to jail for freedom." Robinson, who tended towards a moderate course, was frequently berated by Malcolm and his followers for his tolerance towards the "oppressors." Malcolm X had also rebuked Robinson for his dealings in a Harlem controversy. These events threatened to overshadow the glory of Jackie Robinson's upcoming testimonial dinner being thrown by Dr. King.

A local steakhouse owned by a black man was being threatened (economically) by a chain offering cheaper steaks. It just happened to be owned by a Jewish man, renting space from a white man. The economic conflict soon escalated into a racial one. A group called the Harlem Consumers Committee picketed the newly opening restaurant, shouting anti-semitic slogans such as "Jew go away--black man stay!" Robinson criticized this group, led by Lewis Michaux, in his column for the post, saying that "Anti-Semitism is as rotten as anti-Negroism. It is a shame that, so far, none of the Negroes of Harlem have yet had the guts to say so in tones which could be heard throughout the city."

Though Michaux's group then launched a "hate Jackie Robinson" campaign, many people, including Roy Wilkins, head of the NAACP, and leaders of the Anti-Defamation League praised Jackie for his attitude. Whitney Young, leader of the National Urban League, supported Jackie when he denouced "all those who mask bigotry under the false mantle of nationalism or the hooded robes of the clansmen."

After a few weeks of interviews and negotiations, a settlement was reached. Relations then cooled to the point that Michaux actually attended Dr. King's dinner for Jackie. All present were profoundly affected by the love and respect shown to the man who had spoken out against prejudice of any kind, and Jackie felt sure that he had done the right thing.