As the baseball community celebrates the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the sport’s color barrier, the GW Jackie Robinson Society will honor him with its own event in the Jack Morton Auditorium.
The GW organization, founded in 1999 to honor Jackie Robinson, will present awards to two D.C. community members Thursday for their embodiment of Robinson’s spirit.
Community Recognition Awards will be presented to hall of famer Bobby Mitchell, the first African-American to play for the Washington Redskins, and J.C. Hayward, the first female news anchor in the District.
Richard Zamoff, director of the Jackie Robinson Society and a GW professor, said the society tries to honor those who it feels carry on the trailblazing spirit of Robinson’s life, both in and out of sports.
“(Mitchell, Hayward and Robinson) didn’t choose to be first,” Zamoff said. “But they were in a certain place at a certain time and they were thrust into a role that had nothing to do with their capabilities, but they had to deal with because they were first.”
The society will also present an award to Joan Hodges, wife of Robinson’s teammate Gil Hodges, to honor the role she and her husband played in helping Robinson and his wife acclimate to their unique role in baseball. They will also honor Brian Frazier, a GW baseball player the society feels best exemplifies the values Robinson stood for during his life.
The night will focus largely on just what those values were. While many Americans remember Robinson as remaining courageously sanguine despite the racism he confronted daily, the night will focus on another side of the historic player.
Michael Long, the event’s keynote speaker, said he believes Jackie’s work as an informal civil rights leader after he left baseball was far more important, both to Robinson and America.
Long’s book “First Class Citizenship” looks at the dialogue Robinson had with prominent leaders of the time, ranging from presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Kennedy, to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
The letters portray a war veteran and social activist, disillusioned with the state of American civil rights, who was butting heads with anyone who stood in his way.
For Long, it is this picture, that of the “political maverick who will go where his heart will lead” that is far more real and important to Robinson’s legacy.
“We’ve erased from our collective memory the Jackie Robinson from beyond the baseball diamond,” Long said, “because the Jackie Robinson beyond the baseball diamond is an angry, prophetic African-American who calls the United States to task.”