Ohio Wesleyan Honors Rachel Robinson with Branch Rickey Award
January 12, 2011
Rachel Robinson is only the second person in history to receive Ohio Wesleyan’s Branch Rickey Award, with the inaugural award presented to tennis player Arthur Ashe in 1988. The award was created in memory of Rickey, a 1904 Ohio Wesleyan graduate who partnered with Jackie Robinson to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier. Their courage and vision helped to end racial segregation in professional sports and set the stage for the U.S. Civil Rights movement.
“Branch Rickey’s commitment to racial equality was solidified during his time as a student and baseball coach at Ohio Wesleyan after he witnessed the despair of a black athlete denied hotel lodging with his white teammates,” said University President Rock Jones, Ph.D. “As Rickey watched the distraught athlete pulling at his skin, Rickey vowed that if he ever had the chance to help end segregation, he would do so without hesitation. A man of his word, Rickey changed history when, as president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he signed Jackie Robinson.”
That signing was a true partnership among Rickey, Robinson, and Robinson’s wife, Rachel. Both Jackie and Rachel Robinson attended advance meetings with Rickey to discuss what the signing would mean and how it would change their lives forever.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Roger Wilkins summed up Rachel Robinson’s courage and influence when he wrote: “She was not simply the dutiful little wife. She was Jack’s co-pioneer. She had to live through the death threats, endure the vile screams of the fans and watch her husband get knocked down by pitch after pitch. And because he was under the strictest discipline not to fight, spike, curse or spit back, she was the one who had to absorb everything he brought home. She was beautiful and wise and replenished his strength and courage.”
Rickey’s grandson, Branch B. Rickey, helped to create Ohio Wesleyan’s Branch Rickey Award and will be on hand when the award is presented to Rachel Robinson (in absentia) during a Jan. 27 campus celebration of Branch Rickey-Jackie Robinson Week. (Daughter Sharon Robinson will accept the Branch Rickey Award on her mother’s behalf.)
“Rachel Robinson exemplifies this award,” said the younger Rickey, a 1967 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan and president of Minor League Baseball’s Pacific Coast League. “Her personal strength and courage cannot be overstated, and neither can her commitment to helping others through The Jackie Robinson Foundation.”
The national not-for-profit Foundation is dedicated to the advancement of higher education among underserved populations. It provides four-year college scholarships in conjunction with a comprehensive set of skills and opportunities to disadvantaged students of color to ensure their success in college and develop their leadership potential. The Foundation’s combination of financial assistance and support services consistently results in a nearly 100 percent graduation rate among The Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars.
“I am deeply honored to receive Ohio Wesleyan University’s Branch Rickey Award,” Rachel Robinson said. “Mr. Rickey and Jack shared the same set of values including a sense of justice, equality, and fair play. Their extraordinary partnership not only resulted in the integration of Major League Baseball, but a legacy of transformative power of education embodied in the important work of the Ohio Wesleyan University and The Jackie Robinson Foundation.”
Since its creation in 1973, the Foundation has helped more than more than 1,400 young people to fulfill their dreams of obtaining college educations. The New York Times has said the Foundation “might be the best educational effort in the country.”
Following the presentation of this year’s Branch Rickey Award, the award will be renamed to recognize the Rickey-Robinson partnership and historic legacy. The new award will be known as the “Branch Rickey-Jackie Robinson Award presented by Ohio Wesleyan University.”
“This is a historic moment for Ohio Wesleyan and, we believe, for the nation,” University President Jones said. “Branch Rickey once stated, ‘Ohio Wesleyan has been very largely responsible for whatever good is in me, and is to be credited with whatever good I may have done.’ We believe honoring Rachel Robinson and renaming the award to capture the Rickey-Robinson partnership continues and enhances this important legacy.”
Read more about Ohio Wesleyan’s Rickey-Robinson celebration.
Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier small, private universities, with more than 90 undergraduate majors, sequences, and courses of study, and 23 Division III varsity sports. Located in Delaware, Ohio, just minutes north of Ohio’s capital and largest city, Columbus, the university combines a globally focused curriculum with off-campus learning and leadership opportunities that translate classroom theory into real-world practice. OWU’s close-knit community of 1,850 students represents 45 states and 52 countries. Ohio Wesleyan earned a 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in General Community Service, is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” and is included on the “best colleges” lists of U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review. Learn more at www.owu.edu.
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