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Thread: Ken Burns on Jackie Robinson PBS

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    FORT Fogey Punkin's Avatar
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    Ken Burns on Jackie Robinson PBS

    Tonight and tomorrow night on PBS:

    Ken Burns on Jackie Robinson: ‘The Most Important Person in the History of American Sports’

    The new two-part PBS documentary Jackie Robinson examines the legendary, boundary-breaking baseball player’s life beyond the field.

    Before the United States Supreme Court ruled separate but equal schools unconstitutional, and before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus, Jackie Robinson walked onto the field as first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, making history as the first African-American to integrate Major League Baseball.

    Robinson was a complicated man who navigated an even more complicated world that both celebrated and despised him. And in the new documentary Jackie Robinson, which will air on PBS April 11 and 12, we get a rare glimpse into the struggles and strength of one of the nation’s most athletically gifted and politically complex citizens.

    The film is the latest project by award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, who has documented the American experience for more than 25 years including films on jazz, the Civil War, and Thomas Jefferson. This time, he enlists the help of his daughter Sarah Burns and son-in-law David McMahon to examine the life of the legendary baseball great.

    Robinson, Burns told The Daily Beast, “is the most important person without a doubt in the history of baseball.”

    “I would argue that he is the most important person in the history of American sports and he is one of the greatest Americans who’s ever lived—period,” said Burns.

    And this two-part, four-hour series proves his case.

    In the documentary, Robinson is voiced by Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx, and it features interviews with Robinson’s widow Rachel Robinson, daughter Sharon Robinson, and son David Robinson. There are also appearances by Tom Brokaw, Carly Simon, Harry Belafonte, and a host of former baseball players, historians, and experts who recall Robinson’s legacy and impact on the sport and nation.

    There are a few surprises, too.

    “Jackie Robinson laid the foundation for America to see its black citizens as subjects and not just objects,” President Obama notes in the film. “It meant that there were 6-, 7- and 8-year-old boys who suddenly thought a black man was a hero.”

    Indeed. Many are familiar with Robinson as a baseball hero. Few, however, know of the inner turmoil that came with the historic status. The 2013 movie 42 offered a glimpse into the racism and discrimination that Robinson encountered during his major league career, but the PBS documentary goes a bit further in demonstrating how Robinson developed the fortitude to endure prejudice and seemingly never-ending racist attacks.

    “They may not have called it Black Lives Matter or stop-and-frisk, but Jackie was a firsthand recipient of that bad treatment,” Burns said.

    Born Jack Roosevelt Robinson in a small town in Georgia, Robinson was the grandson of slaves and the youngest son of a sharecropper. His mother bought a home in an all-white neighborhood and though the family faced constant harassment, including burned crosses in their front yard, she refused to move.

    Her son would have the same defiant spirit.

    Robinson sat at a segregated lunch counter at a Woolworths and did not leave until he was served. He went to a movie theater and moved from the balcony—the designated section where blacks could sit—to the main part of the theater on the lower level. And during his time in the Negro Leagues, Robinson refused to buy gas from gas stations that did not allow African Americans to use the restroom.

    It was this Jackie Robinson that Branch Rickey signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Rickey “was looking for a soldier,” remembers Rachel Robinson.

    There was no question of Robinson’s athletic ability. As the documentary points out, he lettered in four sports at UCLA and had done well in his minor league debut. But could Robinson resist the need to retaliate when assaulted, insulted, threatened, or provoked? That would be the true measure of his strength.

    It would be a difficult task.

    More than a third of the players in Major League Baseball came from Confederate states and didn’t like the idea of playing with an African American. The documentary notes how “pitchers aimed for his head” and “crowds rained down abuse.” Robinson was called “boy” and kicked with spiked cleats. There were death threats and hate mail from those who opposed his presence.

    “I really don’t know how he survived and performed the way he performed on the baseball field,” said Don Newcombe, who played alongside Robinson.

    It was a hostile work environment for sure and even Robinson didn’t know how long he could endure the mistreatment.

    “I was overestimating my stamina and underestimating the beating I was taking,” Robinson had said.

    And the journey could be lonely. Because of segregation, Robinson could not stay at the same hotels or eat at the same restaurants as his teammates. And he was further isolated in the locker room, where he showered separately and was given space in a corner.

    Then there was the pressure to uphold the race.

    “We looked upon Jackie as someone bringing hope—that things were going to get better. This was the beginning of a change,” said Ed Charles of the Jacksonville Braves in the film.

    Robinson’s wife, Rachel, said her husband felt the weight of black people on his shoulders.

    “He knew if he failed that social progress was going to get set back,” said Rachel Robinson.

    But it was Rachel’s presence
    that helped Jackie Robinson endure all the pressure, says first lady Michelle Obama in the documentary. Their partnership brought a sense of solace and peace that helped the baseball player withstand the negativity.

    “I don’t think you would have had Jackie Robinson without Rachel,” the first lady noted. “To go back and have refuge with someone who you know has your back, that’s priceless.”

    One way Robinson fought back was by doing well, said Rachel Robinson.

    By the end of his first year as a Brooklyn Dodger, Robinson had made the cover of Time magazine, was named “Rookie of the Year” by Sporting News, led the Dodgers in home runs and doubles, and the National League in steals. And baseball named April 15 Jackie Robinson Day, which is still celebrated today.

    Robinson was the most famous and admired black man in the country. He was also the second-most popular American after Bing Crosby.

    But despite the baseball great’s fame and popularity, the Robinsons experienced housing bias and had difficulty finding a home. American attitudes hadn’t changed much. Though many admired Robinson’s athleticism on the field, fewer folks wanted him as a neighbor.

    The slow pace of progress was frustrating for Robinson. “You could change the laws but not the hearts of some people,” Burns said.
    For the rest of the article:

    Ken Burns on Jackie Robinson:

    When Willie Mays came to San Francisco with the former NY Giants he, too, had trouble buying a house in certain parts of the City. I was 13, but remember it well and thought it shameful that my city would do that to such a hero.
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    Lynda

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    FORT Fogey momrek06's Avatar
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    Re: Ken Burns on Jackie Robinson PBS

    Setting the DVR!

    Thanks, Punkin!!

    Both my hubby and sons LOVE everything and anything BASEBALL!!!

    KB always does such a great job with his DOC's.
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    KAREN

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    Re: Ken Burns on Jackie Robinson PBS

    I'm proud to live in New Hampshire. The only state that accepted minority ball players-in fact, Robinson was headed to The Nashua Dodgers originally. But, because he was rated at a triple AAA ability he went to Montreal. The Nashua Dodgers went on to sign Roy Campanula and Don Newcombe in 1946. How did one of the whitest states in America end up at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement? It took two young, talented African-American baseball players, one determined baseball franchise general manager and a tolerant population with a large Franco-American contingent.

    Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey had already broken the color barrier, the unwritten rule keeping professional segregated since the 1880s. That was accomplished when Rickey signed African-American Jackie Robinson to play for the Montreal Royals who were part of the Dodgers International League in 1945.

    Continuing the momentum of breaking the color barrier, Rickey fully integrated the 1946 Nashua Dodgers by putting catcher Roy Campanella and Pitcher Don Newcombe on the roster thus making Holman Stadium the first integrated ball park in the U.S.A.

    It was said that one of the major considerations that led to the selection of Holman Stadium and the Nashua Dodgers as the team to integrate was Nashua's large Franco-American population who were not considered to have a cultural history of racism.

    The Nashua team thus became the first professional baseball team of the 20th century to field a racially integrated lineup in the United States.

    Campanella's 1946 season proceeded largely without racist incidents, and in one game Campanella assumed the managerial duties after manager Walter Alston was dismissed. This made Campanella the first African-American to manage Caucasian players of an organized professional baseball team. Nashua was three runs down at the time Campanella took over. They came back to win, in part due to Campanella's decision to use Newcombe as a pinch hitter during the seventh inning; Newcombe hit a game-tying two-run home run.

    Nashuas historic Holman Stadium is located on Amherst Street, where Newcombe Way intersects with Campanula Way.

    I worked at Holman Stadium for several minor league teams. There is a silver/ grey circular emblem on the ground at the entrance to the park. Inside the emblem are quotes from Newcombe and Campenella praising Nashua as a town that treated them as family.nashua dod.jpg

    Here is a mural of `Campy' and `Newk' in Nashua, New Hampshire.
    Last edited by redsox girl; 04-12-2016 at 01:55 AM.
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    Well, I won't back down/No I won't back down/You can stand me up at the gates of hell/But I won't back down
    No I'll stand my ground//And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down/Gonna stand my ground/Well I know what's right/I got just one life/In a world that keeps on pushin' me around/But I'll stand my ground/And I won't back down-Tom Petty

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