NEW YORK—The Jackie Robinson Museum has long been a dream and is still under construction for longer than the career of the man who honors him in the league, the Jackie Robinson Museum opened Tuesday in Manhattan with a festive party attended by the 100-year-old widow of the ball-breaker and two of his sons.
Rachel Robinson, who turned 100 on July 19, watched a half-hour outdoor celebration in a wheelchair in 80-degree heat, then cut a ribbon to culminate in a project launched in 2008.
Her 72-year-old daughter Sharon also looked up from a wheelchair and her 70-year-old son David spoke to a crowd of about 200 seated in folding chairs lined up in a closed section of Varrick Street, the main thoroughfare in Lower Manhattan where the two-story museum is located. 19,380 square feet.
“The issues in baseball, the issues that challenged Jackie Robinson in 1947, are still with us,” said David Robinson. “Only the white markings have been removed, but the equal opportunity complexity remains.”
Rachel Robinson announced the museum on April 15, 2008, the 61st anniversary of Jackie’s breaking the major league color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. Robinson was named the NL Rookie of the Year, 1949 NL batting champion and MVP, seven-time All-Star and World Series Champion in 1955. He hit 0.313 with 141 homers and 200 base steals in 11 seasons and was elected to the Hall of Fame 1962.
Robinson, who died in 1972, had an impact beyond baseball, mobilizing a large segment of the American public and promoting the civil rights movement.
“Nowhere in the world is a dream associated with our name — or the name of our country,” said Eric Adams, Mayor of New York City. “There is no German dream. There is no French dream. There is no Polish dream. Darn, there is an American dream. And this man and wife took that dream and forced America and baseball to say that you would not be a dream on a piece of paper, you would become a dream in life. We are the greatest Because of number 42 and because he has a wonderful wife I understood this dream and vision.”
A dinner was held Monday night to preview the museum, which contains 350 artifacts, including play equipment and antiques such as Robinson’s 1946 minor league contract for $600 a month and his 1947 junior contract for a $5,000 stipend. The museum also houses a collection of 40,000 photos and 450 hours of stills.
A 15-piece band played at the ceremony, attended by former bowler CC Sabathia, former NL president Len Coleman and former Mets owner Fred Welbone along with Players Association president Tony Clark and Hall of Fame president Josh Rawich.
“Without him, I wouldn’t be there,” Sabathia said. “I wouldn’t have been able to fulfill my dream of playing Major League Baseball.”
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, director Spike Lee (wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers hat) and former tennis star Billie Jean King were on hand.
“It seems we’re more divided than ever,” King said. “People like Jackie Robinson have been a great reminder every morning, every evening that we have to do the right thing every day.”
The original projections had a 2010 opening and cost $25 million. The Great Recession caused a delay.
The ground was finally 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 due to open in 2019. The pandemic caused further delays, and the total amounted to $38. $1 million, of which $2.6 million was contributed by New York City.
Tickets cost $18 for adults and $15 for students, seniors, and children when the museum opens to the public on September 5. The second floor includes an education center, part of a plan envisioned by Rachel Robinson.
“She wanted an enduring homage to her husband, where people could come and learn about him, but also be inspired,” said Foundation President Della Breton, who chaired the project. “We want to be that place, as young people are now saying, a safe place, where people will talk about race and not worry about the initial reaction when you say something on social media.”
David Robinson said his father would have been proud of it.
“He was a man who used the word ‘we,’” said David. “I think today Jackie Robinson would say I accept this honor, but I accept this honor on behalf of something beyond my individual self, far from my family, beyond even my race. Jackie Robinson might say don’t think you’re standing on my shoulder, I think I’m standing on the shoulders of my mother, who was a farmer in Georgia, my grandmother, who was born a slave.”