A marker honoring Jackie Robinson has been defaced. MLB helped replace him.

In the countryside of southwestern Georgia, about two miles north of the Florida border, in a small clearing along Highway 154, a brick ...


In the countryside of southwestern Georgia, about two miles north of the Florida border, in a small clearing along Highway 154, a brick chimney sits lonely. An accompanying historical marker notes that the house that once stood there burned down in 1996. It is all that remains of where one of the the most important people in american history was born.

Jackie Robinson grew up in Pasadena, California where his family moved to in 1920 when he was 18 months old. He was a four-sport star at UCLA and bounced around the country in the military. He became the first black American to play in Major League Baseball, the April 15, 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, for whom he played for 10 years. He was a civil rights pioneer.

But Robinson’s life began in this remote location outside the city of Cairo in Grady County, Ga., where he was born in a family of sharecroppers. And the only way to know it while driving these country roads is by the marker, which was erected in 2001.

“It’s in the middle of nowhere,” said W. Todd Groce, a historian who is president and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society. “There may have once been cotton fields, but it’s just a pine forest now.”

Since at least February 2021, however, this marker has looked very different. It was then, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and a judgment on race in the United States, which locals discovered the plaque celebrating Robinson’s debut had been strewn with gunshots. It was the last marker acknowledging that black Americans have been vandalized in Georgia in recent years.

But after a homegrown effort — which came with an MLB assist — Robinson’s birthmarker was the last to be replaced. For those involved, it was a moment to remember the lives of Black Americans who had once been ignored, but who in recent decades have now been better represented in markers across the state. It was also a heartbreaking reminder of race-related violence in America.

“It’s terrible,” Linda Walden, Robinson’s third cousin, said. “That shouldn’t happen. Why do something like that? It just doesn’t make sense. It’s really sad in this year and at this time. Look, our people came here in 1619 and we’ve endured so much, our ancestors, and to come now, 2022, and you still have a mess like this going on? It’s sad. It’s very sad, but I pray for these people.

When Walden opened her medical practice in Cairo in 1996, she was the city’s first female doctor. When she cared for children, she asked them if they knew Robinson. Many of them did not – and she swore to honor her parent’s legacy in a town that had none.

She founded the Jackie Robinson Cairo Memorial Institute, lobbied to have a 10-mile stretch of Georgia Highway 93 renamed in her honor and, after asking her family where exactly Robinson was born, asked for a historical marker . Although Robinson spent little time in Cairo – his mother moved the family to California to be with his brothers when Robinson’s father abandoned them – Walden said Robinson was a Georgia native son and these are his humble beginnings.

“I felt it was necessary for these young people to know that great people come from small rural areas of Georgia, like Jackie Robinson,” she said. “And I wanted them to be proud of where they came from. And I want them to emulate that and continue to be leaders and people of greatness.

Walden was of course saddened when she learned of the degradation of the marker, which is on a property she owns.

Groce said the Georgia Historical Society, the nonprofit organization that manages markers statewide, received a phone call alerting them to the damage.

The historical society notified the police and sent one of its staff members to investigate. And indeed, Groce said, Robinson’s marker had been hit by what appeared to be shotgun pellets and a few pistol rounds. He noticed a concentration of damage around the words “Negro American” and “baseball’s color barrier”.

“At first you’re shocked and disappointed, then you’re like, ‘Oh, it happened again,'” he said.

Five months earlier, a marker honoring Mary Turner was shot in Lowndes County, southern Georgia. Turner, a black woman who was eight months pregnant at the time of her death, publicly denounced the lynching of her husband and was later brutally killed by a mob in 1918. It was only the last case of the marker vandalism. Turner and this time, Groce said, the damage was so severe that “it looked like a sieve”.

“They had made holes all the way through,” he said.

Also in 2020, said Groce, a marker at a church established in 1854 for slaves – Flat Rock African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, just south of Atlanta – was knocked down, as was the church’s front door.

When the Georgia Historical Society took over the state marker program in 1998, Groce said 2,000 markers were already in place, most of them related to Confederacy and the Civil War. Since then, the group has added 500, he said, with an eye on underrepresented groups such as black Americans and women.

“We are committed to telling the full story of Georgia’s past, taking that kind of unblinking gaze and realizing that we have to tell all the stories – the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said. he declares.

Of the 2,500 markers spread across the state, Groce said very few were damaged — but of those that were, the majority honored Black Americans. Groce said the three defaced American black markers were in less populated areas and therefore there were no witnesses. He said the historical society had no leads on who was responsible for defacing the Robinson marker.

“There’s something about the use of gunshots at historical markers telling stories about black people that makes you believe it wasn’t just a coincidence,” he said.

Later, he added, “The association of guns and violence against African Americans in this country is one of the things that has been going on for a long time. And so the fact that they fired at these markers with guns was a signal that was being sent one way or another.

(The Grady County Sheriff’s Office did not return a message seeking comment.)

Redesigning and installing new markers cost thousands of dollars. Knowing that the 2021 All-Star Game was coming to suburban Atlanta (before he was moved to Denver due to Georgia election laws), Groce said the historical society approached MLB about a partnership on a new Robinson marker. MLB donated $40,000, he said, which not only covered the cost of a new aluminum birthplace marker, but also the addition of a second — at the Roddenbery Memorial Library in downtown Cairo, a busier area that directs people to the birthplace 13 miles south – and has established a fund for their upkeep.

April Brown, MLB’s vice president of social responsibility, said the effort will exist in perpetuity because “we want to make sure it’s something that lasts forever.”

“Sometimes people look at things like, ‘Oh, it’s just physical signage,'” she said. “But what it represents is how we can empower the community and the public around social justice, and empower and uplift those who fought for the rights of all.”

Brown called the marker’s degradation of Robinson and the others “incredibly heartbreaking.” But she also sees it as an opportunity to draw attention to the fact that vandalism directed at minorities is still happening.

“It’s always an indication of what our country still needs to do,” she said. “It is very unfortunate that whoever the individual or individuals felt the need to go after something so iconic and a man who left such a legacy in baseball and in America .”

The new Robinson markers were installed by local authorities on Wednesday. Local politicians, representatives from New York’s MLB, Groce and Walden, among others, gathered at the public library Friday morning to rededicate the two markers. (A new Turner marker was already installed and rededicated in December.)

The vandalized Robinson marker was scheduled to go to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., Groce said. The plan is for the disfigured Turner marker to eventually end up at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. The hope is that they will serve as reminders that the ugliness of America’s past persists to this day.

“Because of his replacement, it’s a fresh start for people, and hopefully we’ll get it right,” Walden said of his cousin’s birthplace marker. “Let’s do what needs to be done. Treat your neighbor as you would treat yourself.

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Newsrust - US Top News: A marker honoring Jackie Robinson has been defaced. MLB helped replace him.
A marker honoring Jackie Robinson has been defaced. MLB helped replace him.
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