Jackie Robinson Museum opens after 14 years of planning
New York Long dreamed of and in development longer than the league career of the man it honours, the Jackie Robinson Museum opened in Manhattan on Tuesday with a gala ceremony attended by the breaker’s widow the barriers and two of his children.
Rachel Robinson, who turned 100 on July 19, watched the half-hour outdoor celebration from a wheelchair in 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) heat, then cut a ribbon to crown a project launched in 2008.
His 72-year-old daughter Sharon also watched from a wheelchair and his 70-year-old son David addressed the crowd of around 200 seated in folding chairs arranged in a closed section of Varick Street, a main thoroughfare where the 19,380 square foot museum is located. It opens to the public on September 5
“The problems in baseball, the problems that Jackie Robinson challenged in 1947, they’re still with us,” David Robinson said. “Only the white signs have been removed, but the complexity of equal opportunities still exists.”
Rachel Robinson announced the museum on April 15, 2008, the 61st birthday of Jackie breaking the big league color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. Robinson became NL Rookie of the Year, the 1949 NL batting champion and MVP, seven-time All-Star and World Series champion in 1955. He hit .313 with 141 home runs and 200 stolen bases in 11 seasons and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.
Robinson, who died in 1972, had an impact beyond baseball, galvanizing significant portions of American public opinion and spurring the civil rights movement.
“There is nowhere on the planet where the dream is attached to our name – or the name of our country,” said New York Mayor Eric Adams. “There is no German dream. There is no French dream. There is no Polish dream. Shit, there is an American dream. And this man and woman took that dream and forced America and baseball to say you’re not going to be a dream on a piece of paper, you’re going to be a dream in life. We are bigger because of No. 42 and because he had an amazing wife who understood that dream and that vision.
A gala dinner was held Monday night to preview the museum, which contains 350 artifacts, including playing equipment and items such as Robinson’s 1946 minor league contract for $600 a month and his rookie contract from 1947 for a salary of $5,000. The museum also holds a collection of 40,000 images and 450 hours of footage.
A 15-piece band performed at the ceremony, which was attended by former pitcher CC Sabathia, former NL president Len Coleman and former Mets owner Fred Wilpon, as well as the head of the Players Association Tony Clark and Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch.
“Without him, there would be no me,” Sabathia said. “I couldn’t have fulfilled my dream of playing in Major League Baseball.”
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, director Spike Lee (wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers cap) and former tennis star Billie Jean King also attended.
“It looks like we’re more divided than ever,” King said. “People like Jackie Robinson were a great reminder every morning, every night that we need to do the right thing every day.”
The original screenings had a 2010 opening and cost $25 million. The Great Recession caused a delay.
Ground was finally broken on April 27, 2017, when the Jackie Robinson Foundation said it had raised $23.5 million of the planned $42 million for the museum to open in 2019. The pandemic caused more delays and the total collected rose to $38. million, of which $2.6 million was provided by New York City.
Tickets will cost $18 for adults and $15 for students, seniors and children. The second floor includes an education center, part of a plan dreamed up by Rachel Robinson.
“She wanted a fixed tribute to her husband where people could come to learn more about him, but also be inspired,” said foundation president Della Britton, who spearheaded the project. “We want to be that place, as young people are now saying, a safe space where people will talk about race and not worry about the initial backlash that happens when you say something on social media.”
David Robinson said his father would have been proud.
“He was a man who used the word ‘we’,” David said. “I think today Jackie Robinson would say that I accept this honor, but I accept this honor on behalf of something that goes far beyond myself, far beyond my family, far beyond even my race. Jackie Robinson would say don’t think of yourself standing on my shoulders, I think of myself as standing on the shoulders of my mother, who was a tenant farmer in Georgia, my grandmother, who was born a slave.”