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Surge Summary: Inspired and strengthened by his Christian faith, Jackie Robinson not only took a very public stand against the racism of his day, but he was a fierce anti-Communist who spoke out against that godless system and thanked God for America.
by Dr. Paul Kengor
April 15, is Jackie Robinson Day. This annual commemoration by Major League Baseball of its first black player, the man who broke the “color barrier,” began on April 15, 2004, when MLB officials celebrated Robinson’s April 15, 1947, debut with the iconic Brooklyn Dodgers. It turned out to be not a one-time thing. MLB now honors the day each April 15, with players and managers alike sporting Robinson’s jersey number, no. 42.
It’s certainly a worthy tribute. The man truly transformed America’s national pastime and America itself. He fully deserves this place in history.
Robinson in 2013 was honored with a major motion picture, titled 42, starring a talented actor and seemingly fine young man named Chadwick Boseman, who tragically departed this world way too early (as did the man he played). He most recently has been honored by a superb book by my longtime Grove City College colleague, Gary Scott Smith, titled Strength for the Fight: The Life and Faith of Jackie Robinson.
What makes Professor Smith’s work so thoroughly excellent is its focus on the faith of Robinson. Smith, a historian of sports and religion, including via his seminal book on faith and the presidency, is one of the few historians who understands and relates the secret to Robinson’s success: faith.
Faith, faith, faith.
It inspired both Robinson and the man who brought him into baseball, Branch Rickey. Without his intense reliance on God, Robinson would have been the first to admit that he would have never persevered. He spent every night on his knees next to his bed. That was how he got through.
Ronald Reagan had a favorite quote of Abraham Lincoln, which he invoked often in speeches: “I’m often driven to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go.” That was where Jackie Robinson likewise found himself.
Outrageously, but not surprisingly, Hollywood’s rendition of the life of Robinson ignores all of that. It’s another symptom of the rot of Hollywood.
Gary Scott Smith’s book certainly does not make that mistake. It’s a thorough portrayal of Robinson’s faith and life, as well as his politics. As to the latter, Jackie Robinson was a lifelong Republican, though his politics were very distinctive.
As Gary Scott Smith describes it, Robinson by the 1960s was a Rockefeller Republican—that is, Nelson Rockefeller. Liberals today will be eager to try to claim Robinson in that respect, given that Rockefeller was known as a liberal Republican. But they must also be willing to concede that they and conservative Republicans alike detested the “Country Club Republicanism” that Rockefeller represented. When Democrats blast Republicans as the “party of the rich,” well, that was Rockefeller Republicanism. For various odd reasons, Robinson, who a generation earlier would have been banned from country clubs by Rockefeller types, took a liking to the obscenely wealthy New York governor.
What further separates Robinson from today’s secular left was his intense Christian faith. Again, that was the core of his life. Jackie Robinson would be aghast at the radical secularism of today’s progressives.
Moreover, Robinson was a strong anti-communist. In fact, he was such a committed anti-communist that the House Committee on Un-American Activities went to him in July 1949 as a friendly witness to denounce communism. An added motivation for Congress is that another prominent black American athlete (as well as singer/performer), Paul Robeson, was an outspoken Stalinist who had just said (in June 1949) that in a war between the United States and USSR, black Americans would not fight for Uncle Sam.
That was obvious absurdity, and an awful smear of fellow black Americans, huge numbers of which had just fought for America in World War II, even in segregated units. What Paul Robeson really meant was that he and his communist friends in Communist Party USA wouldn’t fight for America against the Soviets. He was speaking, in effect, for himself.
In his testimony before Congress, Jackie Robinson called Paul Robeson’s claims about black Americans “untrue” and “silly.” They indeed were. Paul Robeson might have been head over heels for Uncle Joe Stalin, but Jackie Robinson certainly wasn’t.
Like Martin Luther King, Jr. and like less prominent but heroic black Americans such as Manning Johnson, Jackie Robinson’s staunch Christian faith was a critical factor in his opposition to atheistic communism. “I am a religious man,” Robinson explained to Congress in his July 1949 testimony. “Therefore, I cherish America, where I am free to worship as I please, a privilege which some countries [including the Soviet Union] do not give. And I suspect that 999 out of 1,000 colored Americans will tell you the same.”
Jackie Robinson’s math was spot on. Paul Robeson was the one out of 1,000 so duped by the Kremlin that he didn’t know any better.
“I was not prepared for the happiness I see on every face in Moscow,” Robeson gushed to the Daily Worker (January 15, 1935 edition) after returning home from his December 1934 pilgrimage to Stalin-land, where mass famine was about to kill 5-10 million Ukrainians and Stalin’s purges were ramping up. “I was aware there was no starvation here, but I was not prepared for the bounding life; the feeling of abundance and freedom that I find here, wherever I turn.” Robeson beamed: “This is home to me. I feel more kinship to the Russian people under their new society than I ever felt anywhere else. It is obvious there is no terror here, that all the masses of every race are contented and support their government.”
As for those who disagreed inside the grand old USSR, Paul Robeson actually said to the Daily Worker: “From what I have already seen of the workings of the Soviet Government, I can only say that anybody who lifts his hand against it ought to be shot!”
Yes, Paul Robeson actually said that. (I have the front page of the Daily Worker.) It’s why people of Robeson’s day knew he was foolish, even as Robeson today is upheld by educators as a great icon of civil liberties, and as colleges like Penn State University name centers and buildings after him.
The likes of Jackie Robinson could only read statements like that and sigh.
Robinson was not only a keen athlete dashing around the bases, but a keen intellect. He must be remembered for what he did both on and off the field.
Sadly, his time off the field was short lived. He died in October 1972 at age 53. “After numerous health problems including heart disease, diabetes, failing eyesight and substantial heartache (most notably the death of his son Jackie Jr. in a car crash the previous year), Robinson suffered a heart attack at his home in North Stamford, Connecticut,” writes Gary Scott Smith. “The stress and strain of integrating Major League Baseball and helping to lead the civil rights movement had taken its toll.”
Another great American who proceeded to recognize Robinson’s contributions was President Ronald Reagan, who on March 26, 1984, posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That day, Reagan handed the medal to Robinson’s widow, Rachel, a lovely, gracious woman who is still with us today at the age of 100. Reagan said of Robinson: “He struck a mighty blow for equality, freedom, and the American way of life. Jackie Robinson was a good citizen, a great man, and a true American champion.”
On [April 15], baseball and America rightly pay him homage.
The views here are those of the author and not necessarily Daily Surge.
Originally posted here.
Image: https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/; Adapted from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pingnews/286476724
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science and chief academic fellow of the Institute for Faith and Freedom at Grove City College. One of his latest books (August 2020) is The Devil & Karl Marx: Communism’s Long March of Death, Deception, and Infiltration. He is also the author of A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century (April 2017) and 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. His other books include The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
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