Ohio Wesleyan Honors Jackie Robinson’s Widow, Rachel, with Branch Rickey Award
January 27, 2011
Rachel Robinson was unable to attend the ceremony at Ohio Wesleyan’s Delaware, Ohio, campus, but sent a taped message to share with the crowd.
“I’m thrilled to be honored in the memory of two men whom I loved and admired,” Robinson said. “Jack and Branch were a daring couple. The extraordinary partnership between them not only led to important social changes in America, but also became a rich example of what we, as people, can accomplish when we allow ourselves to trust each other and fight together.”
Rickey’s grandson, Branch B. Rickey, helped to create Ohio Wesleyan’s Branch Rickey Award in 1988 and attended the award ceremony. Afterward, he presented a public lecture, “More than Sport: The Branch Rickey-Jackie Robinson Legacy.” Both grandfather and grandson are alumni of Ohio Wesleyan, graduating in 1904 and 1967, respectively.
Since Rachel Robinson founded The Jackie Robinson Foundation in her husband’s memory in 1973, the not-for-profit organization has helped more than 1,400 young people to fulfill their dreams of obtaining college educations. The Foundation provides four-year college scholarships in conjunction with a comprehensive set of skills and opportunities to help disadvantaged students of color succeed in college and develop their leadership potential.
Following the award presentation, Ohio Wesleyan President Rock Jones, Ph.D., announced the award was being renamed the “Branch Rickey-Jackie Robinson Award presented by Ohio Wesleyan University.” The new name better reflects the legacy and partnership of these two men in breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier, Jones said.
During the ceremony, Jones also shared with the crowd why Branch Rickey was so determined to end racial segregation in sports: In 1903, as an Ohio Wesleyan student and baseball coach, Rickey witnessed the despair of classmate Charles Thomas, when Thomas was denied hotel lodging while traveling in South Bend, Indiana, with his white teammates.
In Rickey’s words: “He looked at me and said, ‘It’s my skin. If I could just tear it off, I’d be like everybody else. It’s my skin; it’s my skin, Mr. Rickey!’ ” At that moment, Jones told the crowd, Rickey vowed that if he ever had the opportunity 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. In April 1947, Robinson took the field wearing No. 42 in his first Major League game. The courage and vision of both Rickey and Robinson helped to end racial segregation in professional sports and set the stage for the U.S. Civil Rights movement. In recognition of Rickey’s contributions, ESPN honored him as the “Most Influential Sports Figure of the 20th Century.” In 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush awarded Robinson the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can award a civilian.
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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