Jackie Robinson
By: Brian Berger | Categories: HiLo Heroes

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In the summer of 1949, two years after his segregation-smashing debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers, JACKIE ROBINSON (1919–72), would make another landmark appearance, this one before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Nobody was suggesting that Robinson himself was a Red but that past April, of the ten Communist Party USA leaders indicted on federal sedition charges, two were black: Benjamin J. Davis Jr. and Henry Winston. That spring also found Paul Robeson pilloried for his assertion that Negroes wouldn’t fight a war against Russia. Though misconstrued, Robeson was unapologetic — that Russia didn’t oppress blacks was his main point — and gladly performed in Moscow that June. For the headline-seeking Republican-led HUAC, the scandal meant hearings on Negro loyalty, with former Army Lieutenant Jackie Robinson their star witness — if he agreed to appear. Though hesitant, on July 18, Robinson flew to Washington, read a 23-paragraph statement distancing himself from Robeson while decrying America’s ongoing legacy of discrimination and departed to rousing applause. That night at Ebbets Field, Robinson led Brooklyn to a 3-0 victory over the Cubs. Afterwards, Robeson knowingly refused to criticize Robinson and in 1952, tragically, he accepted the Stalin Peace Prize. Robinson’s subsequent life as a liberal Republican Civil Rights activist had its own sorrows: a feud with Malcolm X, disgust with Barry Goldwater and later Richard Nixon, his country’s intransigent racism. Still, Robinson learned much and in 1972, now blinded by diabetes and inspired by Jesse Jackson, he told sportswriter Roger Kahn: “I would never criticize Paul Robeson today.”

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: John Lydon, Carol Channing, Grant Morrison, Alan Lomax, Derek Jarman, Norman Mailer, Freya Stark.

READ MORE about members of the New Gods Generation (1914-23).

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Brian Berger is a historian, journalist and poet. He was coeditor, with Marshall Berman, of New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg.