Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier to become the first African-American to play U.S. major league baseball 60 years ago. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, family members and friends of the American sports legend came together to remember his legacy.
For students at Los Angeles City College, this was a chance to learn more about the legacy of a courageous sportsman through the student performance of a play called National Pastime. It recounts Robinson's struggle against racial prejudice as he agreed to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. General manager Branch Rickey warned him he would face taunts and ridicule.
ROBINSON: "It sounds like you're looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back."
MANAGER: "I'm looking for a ball player who's got the guts not to fight back."
Opening evening offered students a chance to meet people close to Robinson, people who had watched him break down racial barriers in the 1940s.
College sports were already integrated in some parts of the country, and Jackie had been a star athlete at Pasadena City College and the University of California, Los Angeles. Later, he played professional football in Hawaii and baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro leagues. Longtime friend and fellow student Ray Bartlett remembers Jackie as a man determined to win.
"Every time we played anybody," he recalled. "I don't care what it was, whether it was a pickup game, win was all Jack knew, and I remember when we thought things were sort of down, he was the guy that kept us going, really."
Gloria Bartlett May was another friend of the baseball legend at UCLA and later in Hawaii, where Ray Bartlett and Jackie played football. She says she was proud when he signed his major league contract.
"And surprised," she said. "And amazed, just like the rest of the public was. But I think a lot of people were behind him, and they appreciated the fact that he gave of himself, which must have been a very traumatic experience. And nobody can realize it unless you have been through it. We felt it, but, you know, he had to live it."
Ray Isum also went to school with Jackie, and became Jackie's brother-in-law when the ball player married Ray's sister, Rachel.
He remembers Robinson as a fierce competitor who was good in every sport.
"And whatever the sport, was - golf, tennis, whatever it was - he was a competitor," he noted. "He wanted to win. So the hardest part for him, I think, was to get in there and take anything they gave him, without retaliating. He was a fiery guy. And so that was really, really hard on him."
Jackie Robinson's nephew, James Ronnie Colbert, was a youngster of nine when Jackie made it into the majors. Colbert says black children in Los Angeles knew little of major league baseball.
"Actually, until he started playing, since there were no blacks or anything, it wasn't brought down to the neighborhood," he recalled. "So we didn't know anything about the World Series or professional baseball. There were no teams in LA, so there was nobody to watch there. No television, so that makes a big difference."
Fred Fate of the Los Angeles City College Theater Academy says the story of Jackie Robinson, dramatized at the college, has moved many people.
"It touched a chord of the lot of people from the point of view of finding something that had to do with optimism, hope for the future," he said. "And I suppose the way in which we train our people is the idea of dream big, and that's what he was doing, and it has touched a chord."
Jackie Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. He was only 53 when he died 10 years later of complications from diabetes. His family and friends remember him as a great player and a man of courage who opened major league sports to athletes of all colors.