Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson Museum Celebrating Baseball, Civil Rights Icon Opens in NYC

In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier that segregated the sport for more than 50 years. He went on to have an illustrious career in sports, before becoming VP of a Fortune 500 company, a political advisor and a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement

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What to Know

  • A museum celebrating the legacy of Jackie Robinson, the civil rights icon who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, opened Tuesday.
  • The Jackie Robinson Museum is a 19,380-square-foot space that will showcase the life and legacy of the baseball great.
  • The museum is located on Canal and Varick streets in Lower Manhattan.

A museum celebrating the legacy of Jackie Robinson, the civil rights icon who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, opened Tuesday in Manhattan with a host of the baseball great's family members, other athletes, celebrities and politicians in attendance.

Rachel Robinson, who turned 100 on July 19, watched the half-hour outdoor celebration from a wheelchair in the 80-degree Fahrenheit (27-degree Celsius) heat, then cut a ribbon to cap a project launched in 2008.

Her 72-year-old daughter, Sharon, also looked on from a wheelchair and 70-year-old son David spoke to the crowd of about 200 sitting on folding chairs arrayed in a closed-off section of Varick Street, a major thoroughfare where the 19,380-square-foot museum is located. It opens to the public on Sept. 5

“The issues in baseball, the issues that Jackie Robinson challenged in 1947, they’re still with us,” David Robinson said. “The signs of white only have been taken down, but the complexity of equal opportunity still exists.”

Rachel Robinson announced the museum on April 15, 2008, the 61st anniversary 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, a seven-time All-Star and a World Series champion in 1955. He hit .313 with 141 homers and 200 stolen bases in 11 seasons and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.

Located on Canal and Varick streets -- near Holland Tunnel -- in Lower Manhattan, the museum builds upon the Jackie Robinson Foundation’s mission by educating the public around the legacy of Jackie Robinson and the ideals and values that defined his life.

Some of Jackie Robinson's team jersey, trophies and photos, among other momentos, will be on display.

Jackie Robinson was born in Georgia in 1919 to a family of sharecroppers, according to the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

This humble beginning in Georgia would shape Robinson, who would go on to be the first baseball player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier that segregated the sport for more than 50 years. During his baseball career, he would go on to be named Rookie of the Year in 1947, Most Valuable Player in 1949, and a World Series Champion with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955.

Jackie Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, five years after retiring from the game. In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of breaking the color barrier in the Major Leagues, his number "42" was retired throughout baseball.

However, his contributions were not solely in the sports world. Jackie Robinson also became the first African American vice president of a fortune 500 company, a political advisor and a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement.

"On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era. He would later become the first African American named a vice president at a fortune 500 company; serve as an advisor to politicians; start a bank and a housing development company; and, was a key figure in advancing equal opportunity and first-class citizenship for all Americans during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s," the Jackie Robinson Foundation notes

“There’s nowhere on the globe where dream is attached to our name — or our country’s name,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said. “There’s not a German dream. There’s not a French dream. There’s not a Polish dream. Darn it, there’s an American dream. And this man and wife 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 greater because of No. 42 and because he had amazing wife that understood that dream and vision.”

Robinson died in 1972.

A gala dinner was held Monday night to preview the museum, which contains 4,500 artifacts, including playing equipment and items such as Robinson’s 1946 minor league contract for $600 a month and his 1947 rookie contract for a $5,000 salary. The museum also holds a collection of 40,000 images and 450 hours of footage.

A 15-piece band played at the ceremony, attended by former pitcher CC Sabathia, former NL president Len Coleman and former Mets owner Fred Wilpon, along with players’ association head Tony Clark and Hall of Fame president Josh Rawitch.

“Without him, there would be no me,” Sabathia said. “I wouldn’t have been able to live out my dream of playing Major League Baseball.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, director Spike Lee (wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers cap) and former tennis star Billie Jean King also were on hand.

“It seems like we’re more divided than ever,” King said. “People like Jackie Robinson was a great reminder every single morning, every single evening that we have to do the right thing every day.”

Original projections had a 2010 opening and $25 million cost. The Great Recession caused a delay.

Ground finally was broken on April 27, 2017, when the Jackie Robinson Foundation said it had raised $23.5 million of a planned $42 million and the museum was intended to open in 2019. The pandemic caused more delays, and the total raised has risen to $38 million, of which $2.6 million was contributed 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 envisioned by Rachel Robinson.

“She wanted a fixed tribute to her husband, where people could come and learn about him, but also be inspired,” said foundation president Della Britton, who headed the project. “We want to be that place, as young people now say, 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 I accept this honor, but I accept this honor on behalf of something far beyond my individual self, far beyond my family, far beyond even my race. Jackie Robinson would say don’t think of you standing on my shoulders, I think of myself as standing on the shoulders of my mother, who was a sharecropper in Georgia, my grandmother, who was born a slave.”

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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