New Museum Honors Jackie Robinson’s Many Legacies
Interactive exhibits will explore the baseball icon’s athletic career and civil rights work
This fall, a new museum honoring sports and civil rights legend Jackie Robinson is coming to New York City. The opening coincides with the 75th anniversary of the year Robinson began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, making him the first Black player in Major League Baseball.
Rachel Robinson, the baseball legend’s wife and founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, first announced the museum project in 2008, according to Ronald Blum of the Associated Press (AP). After more than a decade of delays, she and two of her children cut the ribbon at the museum’s grand opening ceremony last week, where attendees included Spike Lee, Billie Jean King, and New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
Visitors to the new 20,000-square-foot space will go on an interactive journey through Robinson’s life, which will include artifacts and memorabilia on display. But while the museum does chronicle the groundbreaking athlete’s baseball achievements, it will also showcase his work beyond sports.
As Hall of Fame outfielder Hank Aaron once said, per the Jackie Robinson Foundation, “Jackie’s character was much more important than his batting average.”
In an interview with the New York Times’ David Waldstein, Robinson’s son, David, recalls his family home in Connecticut: One wall was covered with his father’s sports achievements, while another wall “highlighted his father’s social activism, something of far greater significance to Jackie Robinson and his family.”
The museum’s design echoes the themes from Robinson’s home: In addition to being a legendary athlete, he was a major civil rights figure who lived a rich and varied life. The museum’s main room is dominated by four pillars, sorting Robinson’s life into categories: entrepreneur, activist, soldier and family, reports Randi Richardson for the “Today Show.”
“We wanted that first impression to be, wow, he did all those things on all those different fronts,” Della Britton, president and CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, tells the “Today Show.” “He was doing activism—and it was really more simultaneous, it wasn’t sequential—the same time he was in the military … because he was petitioning to make sure that there was equality in the military.”
For example, during World War II, Robinson was court-martialed after he refused an order to move to the back of a bus. He ultimately won the case, and he also successfully campaigned for Black soldiers to be allowed in the officer training program. In 1964, he co-founded the Freedom National Bank of Harlem after learning that many established banks were refusing mortgage loans to Black lenders. He was also a columnist for Harlem’s New York Amsterdam News and the New York Post.
“[The museum is designed] not to whitewash the story—to really tell Jackie and Rachel [Robinson]’s experience as authentically and true as we possibly could, so people could really understand all the trials and tribulations that went along with everything he did,” Laura Gralnick, the experience strategy director at Gensler, a design firm that worked on the museum, tells Travel + Leisure’s Alison Fox.
On the sports front, the museum boasts an interactive model of Ebbets Field, where the Brooklyn Dodgers played. The model lights up as various stories are told, highlighting where famous plays happened—and even where Rachel Robinson was sitting during certain games. Other items on display include a jersey from 1947, Robinson’s MVP and Rookie of the Year trophies, his 1984 Presidential Medal of Freedom and his military uniform.
“When we first undertook this mission to build the museum, Rachel told me, ‘I don’t want it to simply be a shrine to Jack, I want it to be a place that brings people together and continues the dialogue around the most difficult issue of our society, then and now, which is race relations,’” Britton tells the Times. “That is what has kept me here the last 18 years. And as we’ve evolved politically during that time, it seems even more compelling and more important.”
The Jackie Robinson Museum will open in New York City on September 5.