So much has been said and written about Jackie Robinson’s impact during his playing days but what did he do with all the capital he’d built up as being a civil rights icon. Calling Jackie an icon while he was still playing and living really isn’t a stretch because his mere presence brought lasting change. But back to the question; what was Jackie’s impact after he was finished with the Dodgers?
One of the cool things that I’m running into with this blog is the delightful tangents you go through trying to find information on topics that most would assume are cut and dry. This is no different because I was over at MLB.com’s Jackie Robinson’s timeline and what I saw in 1960 was shocking to me; Jackie Robinson campaigning for Richard Nixon? Jackie and tricky Dick Nixon together? Now comes the tangent because just Jackie campaigned Nixon you just don’t throw a link on your blog and call it a day. I was curious on how they became associated with each another.
What few people seem to remember is Richard Nixon during his first run for President in 1960 it was that back in 1957 as Vice President he helped push through passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. While the passage of the act would lead up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and would cause our country to make a sizable shift in how we treat and respect each other, it really opened up a not so hidden secret that conservatives where voting republican to reflect their views. But back to Jackie and Nixon. After talking to both Kennedy and Nixon on the campaign trail he thought that his best chances of getting more civil rights legislation passed would be with Nixon.
Jackie did go out and campaign for Nixon, to the confusion and later disappointment of blacks all over the country. He gave up his bi-weekly column with the New York Post and took leave of his job to campaign for Nixon. 2 incidents made Jackie think he was on the wrong side for the 1960 election. The 1st was Nixon’s running mate, Henry Cabot Lodge, announced that if he and Nixon were elected, they would put a black man in the cabinet. The press hounded Nixon about Lodge’s statement til he released a tepid statement that said Lodge spoke for himself and Nixon wouldn’t be held to that promise. The 2nd incident was when Martin Luther King was sent to prison over a traffic violation and Jackie asked Nixon to ask for MLK’s release, he balked stating that he didn’t want to rock the racial boat. John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby ran with the opportunity to demand asking for MLK’s release, which made them very popular in the black community. Also Nixon never campaigned in Harlem, but Kennedy did. Jackie wanted to leave Nixon’s campaign but was too far committed in his mind to change.
Nixon didn’t want upset the conservative wing of the GOP. It was obvious to Jackie he wasn’t going to held to any promises to the black community to get votes during the election. Jackie’s idea was that blacks should be entrenched in both parties but he started to see the all white shift in the GOP start with Nixon in ’60 and finish in ’64 with the GOP nomination Barry Goldwater.
Jackie did find a politician that he could work with and get things done in the form of republican Nelson Rockerfeller. Nelson’s political stances could be consider to be liberal progressive. He was for improving the Civil Rights Act and was a strong advocate of giving minorities more opportunities getting state government jobs and assistance. Jackie had written a strongly worded letter to Rockerfeller demanding action on hiring more minorities in New York State. An ad hoc committee was formed and all the suggestions were enacted. Jackie decided to become on of his 6 national election co chairs for the 1964 republican primary. Rockerfeller preached a more aggressive stance with civil rights while Goldwater embraced the John Birch Society. Goldwater easily won and Jackie’s political influence took a big hit. He didn’t endorse Barry but he still stayed working the GOP side till the ’64 presidential election in which Johnson cruised past Goldwater to win re-election.
What was especially chilling from Jackie’s autobiography was how he and other blacks where treated on the GOP convention floor in San Francisco. It’s hard to imagine anyone trying to come at Jackie Robinson but they sure tried (excerpt from his autobiography). The hard right change to the GOP was complete.
Jackie for the most part devoted his energy to trying to start a bank and insurance agency that catered to blacks. He wanted to see black income being invested in businesses that created self reliance. In 1964 he created Freeman’s Bank and the Jackie Robinson Construction Company that primarily dealt with black and low income clients.
One final note is that while Jackie did spend a great deal of time with republicans, he didn’t consider himself a republican. He was stated as saying “I’m fiercely independent and I’m just look for who can deliver blacks real civil rights and real progress” And up til the day he died he did that and fought for respect and inclusion for the African-American