Sharon Robinson, author, motivational speaker and baseball great Jackie Robinson’s daughter, took time away from writing her next book to speak to St. John residents on facing adversity in honor of Black History Month.
In addition to hosting several story hours at the Elaine I. Sprauve Library for St. John schoolchildren, Robinson spoke at the Friends of the Library’s annual meeting on Thursday evening, February 15.
Robinson, who lived on St. Croix for four years, enjoyed her short stay on St. John, she told the crowd.
“I envy all of you,” said Robinson. “Someday I may join you again. St. John is so amazing and beautiful, and everybody is so warm.”
Robinson, whose great-grandparents were slaves, told the crowd about the challenges her family faced, and about where she believes her father got his strength.
“His strength started with my grandmother, who moved five kids to California on a train alone,” said Robinson. “She saved up and found the house she wanted in a white neighborhood. She sent in a light-skinned cousin, who passed for white and bought the house — she was a very steadfast woman.”
Robinson’s father began standing up for his rights at a young age, she explained.
“He was a lieutenant in the Army, when he was court martialed for not sitting at the back of the bus,” said Robinson.
Jackie Robinson lettered in football, baseball, basketball and track and field at UCLA, where he met his wife, a young nursing student, explained Robinson, who learned about her parents’ relationship by reading their love letters.
Facing Racial Opposition
“My mother sat me down with two stacks of these letters,” said Robinson. “I noticed they all started off with ‘darling.’ There were hate letters also — threats on dad’s life if he played in a game.”
Jackie Robinson fought against racial prejudice he encountered in baseball by playing even harder, Robinson explained.
“At one game, the opposing team threw a black cap on the field and told him it was his cousin,” said Robinson. “He struck back by batting a double, and in the next play, he came home. As he rounded third, he looked over at the opposing team and said, ‘I guess my cousin is happy now.’”
One of Robinson’s fondest memories as a child were the jazz concerts the family would host to fund civil rights movements.
“It was a family activity,” she said. “We sold sodas and hot dogs, and there would be up to 2,000 people on our lawn in Connecticut. One time we got to work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
Jackie Robinson’s role at the concerts was always to park the cars, explained his daughter.
Jackie Robinson Foundation
“It was always dad’s job to park the cars, but he had ulterior motives,” said Robinson. “Dad took great pride in his lawn, and didn’t want anyone to drive on it. He’d judge the success of a concert by how much lawn he had to replace.”
Robinson now works with the Jackie Robinson foundation, which gives scholarships to students demonstrating academic excellence and leadership.
“They must demonstrate a commitment to giving back,” said Robinson. “We bring them together once a year in New York for five days, where we cover everything from mentoring to theater. We go to church, and the students meet with their corporate sponsors.”
The annual get-togethers allow the foundation to follow the students they are supporting, Robinson explained.
“We get to keep our hands on these students,” she said. “That’s how we see ourselves carrying forward my father’s legacy.”