WEB EXTRA: Event discusses Jackie Robinson’s legacy

A panel of professors and community members gathered Thursday night at Hillel to discuss baseball legend Jackie Robinson and his effects on race relations, their personal lives and achieving the American dream.

The presentation was the third in a Jackie Robinson lecture series sponsored by GW’s Multicultural Student Services Center and the student-run Jackie Robinson Society. According to event organizers, the series aimed to demonstrate the relationship between race and sports in the civil rights movement.

The panel included Christopher Lamb, a communication professor at the College of Charleston, Stephen Butler, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Earlham College, Ernell Graham, a retired school counselor, and Barry Zamoff, an expert on Robinson’s time with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Lamb spoke about Robinson’s constant struggles against racism, from his experiences on a segregated military bus ride before World War II to his work with the civil rights movement subsequent to his baseball career.

“The civil rights movement didn’t start with Brown v. Board of Education. It didn’t start with Martin Luther King. It started with Jackie Robinson,” Lamb said.

Butler spoke about a common “If Jackie can do it, so can I” mentality that many of Robinson’s fellow Brooklyn, N.Y. inhabitants adopted because of his example. Butler, a former Brooklyn resident, added that Robinson’s peers learned to turn the other cheek to racial prejudices.

“We as a community were moved by the momentum of Jackie Robinson’s struggle to begin the fight of civil rights,” Butler said. “He taught the world there was no such thing as no and nothing that can’t be done.”

Graham also grew up in Brooklyn at the height of Robinson’s baseball career.

“He was a hero to the people in my neighborhood,” Graham said. “All blacks became instant Brooklyn Dodger fans because of Jackie Robinson.”

Graham recalled watching one of Robinson’s white teammates, Harry Henry Reese, put his arm around Jackie’s shoulders after a fan had thrown trash and racist remarks in Robinson’s direction.

“When you touched Jackie, you touched all of us,” Graham said about Reese.

The final lecturer, Barry Zamoff, received a chorus of laughter and cheers as he began to speak because of his nearly identical appearance and voice to that of his twin brother, professor Richard Zamoff, who teaches a class on Jackie Robinson and had many students in attendance.

Barry Zamoff told a story about meeting Robinson while playing on a Brooklyn little league team. He said the Dodgers were essential to the civil rights movement.

“The Dodgers were the first refutation of stereotypes in baseball and beyond and it all started with Jackie Robinson,” Barry Zamoff said. “There are a zillion topics where studying Robinson’s story gives insight into breaking stereotypes-gays in the military, women as partners in law firms, etc.”

Richard Zamoff, who teaches a course entitled “Jackie Robinson: Race, Sports, and the American Dream” said, “Jackie Robinson’s story is the biggest omission in American history. Historians classify him as the second most important black man in the history of America, after Martin Luther King, and yet many people only know him as a baseball player.”

Freshman Teresa Chung said, “I have to admit I didn’t realize how big a role Jackie Robinson played. (The lectures) made me realize that sports figures can change history too.”

The Jackie Robinson Society has already begun planning the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Robinson’s groundbreaking entry in major league baseball in April.

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