Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217

October 14, 1997

Library of Congress To Release On-Line Collection Devoted to Jackie Robinson

Release Marks 50th Anniversary of Baseball Legend's Entry into Major Leagues

Baseball legend and civil rights pioneer Jackie Robinson is the subject of a new on-line collection from the Library of Congress, to be available Oct. 15 at http://www.loc.gov/.

"By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s" is one of the Library's American Memory collections of on-line materials relating to American history. American Memory is a project of the National Digital Library Program of the Library of Congress.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's history-making 1947 season with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

"We are excited to offer this new on-line collection, and just in time for the World Series," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "The Library of Congress is fortunate, through the power of the Internet, to be able to share widely its unique collections on this great American, connecting in a new way with those who know and love Jackie Robinson."

The Jackie Robinson materials are distinguished by the depth and variety of their content, offering sometimes surprising substance. They are drawn from collections throughout the Library -- newspaper and magazine accounts from the period, unique prints and photographs, manuscripts and even a big band score that celebrates Robinson's accomplishments.

Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia, on January 11, 1919, the youngest of five children. When he was 18 months old, his widowed mother moved the family to Pasadena, California, to be near family. Jackie got his first exposure to big-time American sports selling hot dogs at the Rose Bowl. In spite of financial difficulties in his family, he was able to attend Muir Technical High and Pasadena Junior College by working odd jobs. He earned an athletic scholarship to UCLA, where, in addition to playing baseball, his running sparked the undefeated 1939 football team. He won a national collegiate title in the 25-foot broad jump, and he was a top Conference basketball scorer. He left UCLA in 1941 to help support his family, entered the Army in 1942 and was commissioned in 1943. After his discharge in 1944, he coached high school basketball in Austin, Texas, and then played shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs, a black team, where he was found by Dodger scouts.

For many years, major league executives denied that a color line existed in the game and said they would gladly sign an African American if one could be found with the talent to make their roster. The black press recognized the absurdity of the claim and Wendell Smith, sports editor of the _Pittsburgh Courier_, wrote eloquently of his hope that the unwritten ban on Negro players would be wiped out. Just days before Branch Rickey made his momentous announcement that Robinson would be holding down first base for the Dodgers, Smith wrote, "Baseball writers throughout the country are standing by, waiting to flash the biggest story of the year to readers all over the globe. Men and women and kids on the street in Brooklyn are waiting and ready to hail Robinson as one of their beloved Bums."

The pressure on Jackie Robinson was enormous: If he failed it would be a long time before another black man was given a chance in the major leagues. So, in a sense, the fate of all other black ballplayers rested with him, as did the hopes of most African Americans. There was opposition from opposing teams, as well as from his own teammates, who wanted him to fail. Their attitudes changed, however, as they came to know and respect him. His success led to his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The National Digital Library Program of the Library of Congress aims to make available millions of items on the Internet by the year 2000. Recently, collections have been made available of panoramic photographs of 1851-1991; important documents from the Library's unparalleled collection of American manuscripts; and pictures documenting the women's suffrage movement in 1850-1920.

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PR 97-171
10/14/97
ISSN 0731-3527

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