Author Spotlight: Michael G. Long
Book: Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life after Baseball
Michael G. Long is an accomplished author and editor with several published books on politics, religion, and civil rights. He’s the editor of Marshalling Justice: The Early Civil Rights Letters of Thurgood Marshall and, his most recent title, Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life after Baseball. Long’s Jackie Robinson anthology comes out next month and is part of the Syracuse University Press Sports and Entertainment series.
What led to the focus and research behind Robinson’s involvement in the Republican party?
“I became interested in this when I began to research Robinson’s longtime correspondence with Richard Nixon. These two fascinating personalities first met during the 1952 Republican National Convention. Nixon took the occasion to recount a 1939 football game between the University of Oregon and UCLA and to ask about a particular play starring Robinson as halfback. After this meeting, the two began to correspond and Robinson grew impressed with what he took to be Nixon’s progressive stance on the issue of first-class citizenship for African Americans. Robinson was especially pleased with Nixon for speaking out against racism during a 1957 trip to Africa and for helping to engineer successful passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. Robinson even campaigned for Nixon in 1960. It was not odd for Robinson to support the Republican Party. In his mind, it was the party of Abraham Lincoln; the real problem was the racism perpetrated by Southern Democrats.”
Where did your fascination with Robinson; as a player, writer, and voice begin?
“Believe it or not, my fascination with Robinson began while I was researching the peculiar relationship between Billy Graham and Richard Nixon. I was looking at Nixon’s papers at the National Archives in Laguna Niguel when a most helpful archivist, Paul Wormser, asked me whether I had seen the Jackie Robinson file. The file was beyond my immediate research topic, but I could not resist the chance to look at letters between Nixon and Robinson. When I read those captivating letters and encountered Robinson’s fierce battle for equal rights in political society, I was hooked. It was a breathtaking experience for me.”
How and when did you go about collecting Robinson’s columns and letters?
“Robinson’s papers are deposited at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. It’s a great collection, and I encourage our readers to check them out at some point. It’s great fun to hold an authentic Jackie Robinson letter. His letters are also in archives across the country as well as in private hands. Robinson’s columns can be found in the archives of the New York Post and the New York Amsterdam News. Both of these collections can be found on microfilm.”
Were there any particular challenges in acquiring his writings that stand out?
“The primary challenge is selecting writings that give expression to the breadth and depth of Robinson’s character and actions. Given my own interest, it’s easy for me to focus too much on Robinson’s politics and his prophetic actions in the public square. But in conversations with Rachel Robinson I became determined to select writings that showed the tenderhearted side of Robinson—the part that his family and friends encountered on a regular basis.”
On the negative reactions by Robinson’s fans, do you think the fans were upset because he was no longer the image of an African American ball player who took the racist comments with stride, or because they became uncomfortable with the knowledge that Robinson was truly upset with the harsh injustice that he had faced?
“Robinson believed that some baseball fans wished he had forever remained the young man who turned the other cheek in the first three years of his career with the Dodgers. For those fans, Jackie stated, that was an appropriate posture for a black man. So when Robinson straightened his back and started disputing calls and unfair practices in baseball, these fans grew disenchanted and angry. Still others grew even angrier when Robinson dared to speak his mind about politics and race in the public square. But let’s be clear: there was no stopping Jackie Robinson from doing what he wanted to do. And what he wanted to do most of all was to secure equal justice for African Americans and indeed for all.”
“The story of Robinson shattering the color barrier in Major League Baseball is tough to top, and it’s the story that most of us know. Interestingly, though, Robinson believed that he became much more aggressive in the years following his baseball career. His columns, I believe, offer evidence that Robinson ramped up his protest of racial injustice in his post-baseball career. Until the day he died Robinson was fiercely committed to advancing civil rights and helping civil rights leaders establish a society that offered first class citizenship to everyone.”
Given Robinson’s reluctance to have his work changed, how comfortable were you editing his work without Robinson beside you?
“I was most comfortable in thinking how good it would be to pull these columns out of the dusty closet and use them in a way that adds to the public’s understanding of Jackie Robinson. He was far more complex than the Jackie Robinson of 1947—the young man who quietly soldiers his way through racist jeers—and the columns indicate exactly that. They show Robinson playing Santa to underprivileged children, taking Nixon to task in the 1968 presidential race, showering love on his wife Rachel, and so much more. Robinson was not beside me when I edited his work, but I certainly came away with feeling that I knew him much more fully than I ever had.”
For more information on Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life after Baseball, edited by Michael G. Long, visit the Syracuse University Press website. It’s available for pre-order now!