Happy Birthday, Living Legend Rachel Robinson!

Roundup
tags: Black History, civil rights movement



Yohuru Williams is an author, Professor of History and Black Studies, and education activist.

On Friday, the nation celebrated what would have been the 153rd birthday of pioneering Civil Rights Advocate and Anti-Lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Sunday, July 19, 2015 marks the 93rd birthday of another significant woman of color. Like Wells-Barnett and far too many other Black female champions of democracy and justice, Rachel Isum Robinson remains in the shadows of history, a living legend, and still active patron of Black education.

Popular accounts of the life of Jackie Robinson often situated Rachel as the conventional 1950s homemaker who, as the New York Times put it in 1997, “broke the wives color barrier.” Rachel’s contribution to American History is much greater than this. She offered Jack much more than a partner’s love and affection. In his own writings, Jack affirmed that he and Rae, as he affectionately called her, were equal partners that shared a passion for social justice. She likewise observed, “I believe that the bond that Jack and I worked to create and maintain was crucial to the triumphs we experienced, as we lived in both private and public arenas.” As Jack broke the color barrier in baseball, Rachel earned a degree in nursing and continued to break down barriers of her own.

Shortly after Jack retired, Rachel earned a Master’s of Science in Psychiatric Nursing from New York University in 1957; she enjoyed a fruitful career including a prestigious teaching post in the Nursing Program at Yale University. Even as she pursued her professional calling, she and Jack stayed abreast and concerned over violent resistance to the Civil Rights Movement. The family contributed in both time and finances to that movement. Furthermore, his activism was a reflection of their shared values. They, for example, staged a series of long running jazz concerts, on the home of their lawn in Stamford, Connecticut, to raise money for the defense of jailed civil rights activists.

While Jack made the headlines, Rachel often bore the brunt of the hidden but nonetheless significant battles such as shepherding the family through the process of facing northern style apartheid as they attempted to purchase a home and then make a life in the suburbs of Connecticut. Even the most famous and wealthiest African American athlete of his day was not immune from housing discrimination. In addition to challenges in her own career, with characteristic dignity and grace she helped their two youngest children through the process....




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