Thursday, February 7, 2013

Jackie Robinson and the Georgia town that forgot him!

Jackie Robinson was born in the little Georgia town of Cairo, but you’d barely know it.
by Charlie Leck

Calling all who can remember the great Jackie Robinson
Yes, this is a call to arms! You’ll probably need to be 65 years of age or more, but I’m still calling you to rise up and proclaim your memories of Jackie Robinson and wonder with my why the small town in which he was born hasn’t paid him the kind of honors it should. Then, let’s join together to call on Cairo to create some kind of major institution in its town to rightfully honor this historic member of the Major League baseball fraternity.

What’s behind all of this? Well here’s what happened on a visit I paid to the little town in Georgia last year!

Let me pin-point Cairo on a map for you! It’s very nearby Thomasville, Georgia, which, in turn, is very nearby Tallahassee, Florida. Cairo is less than forty miles almost due north of Tallahassee (about 20 miles north of Florida’s northern border). It’s nice country and it has beautiful roads that virtually glide through the beautiful Georgia pines, inviting you to push your car quite handily along.

Last March, I was due to visit a friend in Thomasville – an old (if I may use the word about a lady) high school friend. I was running earlier for my appointed time of arrival, so, knowing that a boyhood hero of mine, Jackie Robinson, was from nearby Cairo, I thought I’d take a drive to find, perhaps, the Jackie Robinson Museum or the Jackie Robinson Community Center, or the Jackie Robinson Sports Center. Certainly, I’d find the Jackie Robinson Memorabilia and Gift Shop.

No such luck. I found none of the above! I drove slowly around the community, up and down the little streets and avenues. Main Street was not named after Jackie. Neither was the local high school. The community center bore some insignificant name. I did find a small sign on the high school baseball field, proclaiming it to be Jackie Robinson Field. I’ve only recently found out there is also a small bronze marker behind home plate on that field that outlines Jackie’s illustrious baseball career.

After driving around quite awhile, I headed out on a road that was called, on one sign I saw, Jackie Robinson Memorial Highway. Out there I found a small piece of property where a bronze highway marker proclaims the site to be the birthplace of Jackie Robinson. A chimney still stood there. It was all that remains of the little house where Jackie was born.

Well, here’s what I thought as I climbed back in my car and drove over toward my friend’s house in Thomasville: “What a bunch of dumb bunnies they must have in this town! No Jackie Robinson museum? No Jackie Robinson center? No Jackie Robinson gift store?”

Over lunch that day, in Cairo, I told my friend how disappointed I was and how I thought the little town was missing out on the wonderful possibility of honoring Jackie and bringing lots of visitors to Cairo. They certainly ought to appeal to Major League Baseball to help them open up a Jackie Robinson Center there in their small town.

Well, what do you know?
Just a few days ago, a little note and a newspaper clipping came from my Thomasville friend. “Spotted this,” she wrote, “as I was skimming through the local Cairo paper the other day. Thought you might be interested to know that maybe someone will honor our local hero!!”

The news story was headlined: “Dr. Walden honored for service!”

I read about a local, Cairo doctor who received the 2012 community service award from the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians.” What the story also told me was that this doctor was also a die-hard Jackie Robinson fan. Her name is Linda I. Walden, MD, and she wonders, too, why Cairo has so little honored good-old Jackie. Hooray!

I also found a 2011 story about Doctor Walden in the Jacksonville Times. It points out that she is responsible for most of the historic indicators that stand today, pointing out that Cairo is the home of Jackie Robinson – the marker out at his birth site, the highway named after him and the sign at the high school baseball field. The doctor wants more. Over the years she’s faced plenty of opposition to her efforts and she hasn’t been afraid to label a lot of it what it was – racism! If Jackie Robinson had been a white man there would be no stopping the announcement of it in a town like this. Robinson may be one of the dozen most prominent names in Major League baseball history, for heaven’s sake! The doctor talks of personal threats on her. She’s certain that they were racially oriented.

The doctor has suggested the town put up statue honoring the great ballplayer in front of the county courthouse or the downtown library. The same commission that turned that idea down later approved a memorial for the Sons of the Confederacy.

Doctor Walden argues that the town and county would get an economic boost if it were better known as Robinson’s hometown.

Robinson did return to Cairo in 1949. He brought teammates Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe with him and they participated in a parade. The newspaper adds that the event was mostly attended by blacks.

The doctor is a third cousin of Jackie Robinson and it’s a mission for her to keep the memory of Jackie and all his wonderful accomplishment alive in the history of Cairo. She wants him to be known as more than a great ballplayer. She thinks Jackie was also a civil rights hero. He had to endure a lot as the first black player in a white man’s game. People threatened to boycott the game. The famous owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers stood tall and said: “Let ‘em boycott!” Jackie’s life was threatened many times. And when he finished playing the game, he still stood tall for civil rights and his willingness to stand up for the rights of black people was important because of the power his name carried.

Doctor Walden reminds us that Robinson, a commissioned Army officer was discharged from the service for once refusing to move to the back of a bus – and that was two decades before Rosa Parks took her famous seat on the front of the bus and refused to move. When he retired from baseball, he became as special assistant to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Jackie also opened and managed the first black owned bank in the United States.

For the record, Jackie Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, to sharecroppers on a plantation in Cairo. His grandparents were former slaves.

Well, I sat right down and penned a note to Doctor Walden. “Hey doc,” I said, “I agree with you and let’s get something going!” Or, at least, I wrote something to that effect. If I get a reply, I'll tell you about it.

Why not become a follower?
If you read my blog regularly, why not become a follower? All you have to do is click in the upper right hand corner and establish a simple means of communication. Then you'll be informed every time a new blog is posted here. If all that's confusing, here's Google's explanation of how to do it! If you don’t want to post comments on the blog, but would like to communicate with me about it, send me an email if you’d like.

No comments:

Post a Comment