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30 August 2022 CALL HIM JACK: THE STORY OF JACKIE ROBINSON, BLACK FREEDOM FIGHTER by Yohuru Williams and Michael G. Long, Farrar Straus & Giroux, September 2022, 240p., 978-0-3743-8995-6


“He was a sit-inner before the sit-ins, a freedom rider before the freedom rides.”

– Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking about Jackie Robinson


“When Jack became a student at Cleveland Elementary, his friends stood in awe as they watched him tear up the baseball diamond, the football field, and the dodgeball court. Envious of his athletic skills, they offered him half their lunches if he would play on their side.

But his athleticism did little to protect him from the racist neighbors, and at the age of eight, he had a nasty encounter while he was sweeping the sidewalk.

Across the street was a white girl who was also sweeping. Her father was one of those who had loudly demanded that the Robinsons leave the neighborhood. Jack paid her no mind at first, but then she shouted, ‘Nigger! Nigger! Nigger!’

The words stung, and Jack fired back that she was ‘nothing but a cracker.’

Unfazed, the girl shot off a rhyme: ‘Soda cracker’s good to eat, nigger’s only good to beat.’

Hearing the commotion, her father burst through their front door, picked up a rock, and hurled it at Jack.

Jack found his own rock and threw a fastball right back.

The battle waged on until the man’s wife ran out of the house and scolded her husband for such immature behavior. As the man skulked back inside, Jack stood his ground, fully prepared to fight some more.”


You might know that Jackie Robinson was the first Black major leaguer in modern professional baseball. Did you also know that he staged impromptu sit-ins decades before the famous lunch counter sit-ins we all learn about? Did you know that he repeatedly stood his ground against movie theater ushers and bus drivers who repeatedly tried to “put him in his place” during the Jim Crow era? Did you know that he was also the first Black vice-president of a major US corporation? 


Jackie Robinson made the most of his natural talents, his loving family, and his own competitiveness to become one of America’s most-celebrated athletes–in high school, in college, and as a pro. Then, after completing his storied career, he was as determined to change the country as a Civil Rights advocate as he had been to win the World Series.


CALL HIM JACK is a riveting biography written by a pair of respected and well-known professors who are experts on Jackie Robinson, and who played key roles in Ken Burns’s 2016 documentary on Robinson. This tale for tweens and teens never blindly lionizes its subject. The authors honestly depict Robinson’s shortcomings, such as being part of a teen gang, and not being a great student. (He eventually switched college majors to avoid required classes that he couldn’t satisfactorily complete.) 


As the first Black ballplayer in MLB, Jackie Robinson had to suck it up. He had to do his job while consciously ignoring the countless players, managers, and spectators who called him the N- word and hurled other insults at him because of the color of his skin. It was the same abuse he'd endured as a kid, a teen, and as an officer in the military.


In retirement, Robinson used his star power to attract people to the Civil Rights movement and raise money for the struggle. In 1962, one of his first post-retirement actions was a successful fundraising campaign to rebuild three Black churches in Georgia that had been burned to the ground in retaliation for registering voters. 


Jackie Robinson subsequently spoke and marched at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. King delivered his I Have a Dream speech. He became a regular presence at marches and protests, and was always ready to take on racists,  continuing the path he’d started as an eight year-old. 


“State lawmakers have intro­duced and passed an unpre­ced­en­ted wave of restrict­ive voting legis­la­tion since the 2020 elec­tion. This torrent has the poten­tial to cause griev­ous harm at the polls. Similar to the conclu­sions reached in academic stud­ies, recent news articles and reports writ­ten by voting rights experts as part of relev­ant litig­a­tion show how new restrict­ive voting laws make it dispro­por­tion­ately harder for voters of color and voters with disab­il­it­ies to cast their ballots.”

– The Brennan Center for Justice, “The Impact of Restrictive Voting Legislation”


So why do you need this notable biography in your local elementary and middle school libraries? Because young people should know that Jackie Robinson was a far more interesting person than the first this-and-that, or a Hall of Famer with awesome stats. 


Becoming a “first” is not a straightforward parade of triumphalism. It involves confronting painful conflict and difficulties. Unfortunately, today’s kids may be faced with conflict and difficulties of their own. Many states are still doing everything possible to interfere with voting rights, and law enforcement officers and other representatives of the law continue to abuse and murder minorities, both kids and adults. 


As young people become aware of injustice, they often question the prospects in their own lives. It may be meaningful for some to understand the story of a man who faced and overcame daunting circumstances, this time depicted with subtlety and recognition of how complicated that was. These are important reasons for getting this engaging, award-worthy biography into the hands of young people. 


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com






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