The president, reported the First Lady, was “visibly, physically moved” yesterday after viewing a new film dramatizing the breakthrough career of Dodger legend Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play major league baseball. One of the perks of being president is that you get to see movies before the rest of us. Simply called 42, the Robinson biopic opens on April 12, three days before the 66th anniversary of the historic day Robinson stepped onto the field and changed America.
“You can’t imagine the baseball league not being integrated. There are no more “Whites Only” signs posted anywhere in this country. Although it still happens, it is far less acceptable for someone to yell out a racial slur while you’re walking down the street,” Michelle Obama told a group of students at the White House, according to the Associated Press. “That kind of prejudice is simply just not something that can happen in the light of day today.”
The progress that resulted in Mrs. Obama and the president occupying the White House was clearly on her mind, as she sought to drive the lesson home to the students, some of whom were from the Jackie Robinson charter school in Los Angeles, and others who are Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholars.
“It reminds you how much struggle is required to make real progress and change,” she said.
But just as the election of Barack Obama failed to usher in what some commentators were quick to call a “post-racial” era in America, and the second inauguration was a good time for others to revisit that optimistic prediction, the film will certainly provide a chance for everyone to relive both Robinson’s courageous role in history, and the many changes that were still to come.
Fifty years ago this April, 16 years after Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, a coordinated movement led by the Rev. Martin Luther King sought to change the system of segregation that dominated every facet of life in Birmingham, Ala. See the AARP slideshow 1963 Retrospective: The Struggle for Civil Rights: April
And even today, in an era where players are judged by their statistics (fodder for another argument perhaps) and players of every color and hue can earn tens of millions of dollars, Major League Baseball chooses to remember Robinson and the progress he represented with special events like a yearly Civil Rights game. That game will be played in Chicago this year, on Aug. 24th.
In a statement yesterday, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf explained why his team is eager to take part: “The majority of people in this country were probably not alive when [Dr. Martin Luther] King was killed, and certainly were not alive when Jackie Robinson came into the game. Just like the majority of people weren’t alive for the Holocaust. We just can’t have people forgetting what went on if we’re going to get to a country where we truly have an equal opportunity for everybody.”