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Michael G. Long Headshot

Celebrate Rachel Robinson, Too!

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The release of 42 is important not just because it introduces a new generation to Jackie Robinson's courageous role in shattering racial barriers in Major League Baseball but especially because it draws our attention to one of the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement (which Robinson helped to build) -- Rachel Isum Robinson.

No one would be more pleased with this than Jackie, who often described Rachel as a "full partner" in all of his achievements. He wasn't shy about expressing his feelings in public, and in February 1962 he even penned a newspaper column recounting his love for Rachel. Here's an excerpt of that tribute:

When I was a student at the University of California, a friend introduced me to a pretty brown girl named Rachel Isum. Often now, I wonder where I would be in life and what would have happened to me if I hadn't met Rae -- who is now Mrs. Jackie Robinson.

One thing I know for certain. I can't imagine how I would have made it through the bad days or the good if it hadn't been for the understanding, love and devotion she has given me down the years.

For two reasons, we almost goofed back in those early days. We almost goofed and didn't get married.

The first reason was that Rae did not -- as the story books go -- fall in love with me at first sight. In fact, she told a friend of hers that she thought I was conceited. I guess she thought it had gone to my head that I was pretty much of a campus celebrity because of my sports record at UCLA. She found out later, however, that I wasn't as much conceited as I was withdrawn and sort of sick of people who raved over you today because you were a campus hero and who actually liked you as much as they liked your last sports victory.

After Rae and I became engaged and while I was in the service, we almost goofed again. We had one of those silly lovers' quarrels. Rae wrote me and told me she wanted to volunteer for the service. I wrote back and told her she was my personal draftee -- so please stay home. She even returned my ring and we both thought it was all over.

If it hadn't been for my mother, the other great influence in my life, it might have been over. Mothers don't mind telling you the truth. So, when I went home on furlough, miserable because I was in Los Angeles and Rae was in San Francisco and we were worlds apart, my mother said: "Jackie, call Rae. You know that's what you want to do."

Rae and I made up. Although, like all normal couples, we've had our minor spats and problems, we haven't ever become estranged from each other again.

I'm sure we never will.

There is so much that I owe to Rae that life without her just wouldn't seem to make sense. She has been my critic, my companion, my comforter and inspiration. She was the force behind my drive to make good in the world of sports and she is the force behind my drive today to make good in the world of business. She has been a sweet wife and a loving mother to our three children.

Thinking about Rae always makes me want to remind girls and women how important they are in making the world go round. It's an old saying -- but a true one -- that behind every successful man there is usually a woman who deserves much credit for his success.

I recall the days at ballparks, all over America, when I got a hard way to go. I can remember being insulted by someone because of my race -- or just having a bad day or a slump. Rae was always there when I got home. She was there to say exactly the right word or to kiss me and make me realize that, after all, the world hadn't come to an end.

In my trophy room at home, I've got lots of awards and medallions and certificates. Sometimes I think there should be two names on them instead of just mine. For Rae has been a full partner in anything I have done or tried to do ever since that lucky day in California when we decided to share our lives.

While Rachel played an active role in Robinson's professional career, their family life, and even the wider civil rights movement, she also flourished in her chosen career in professional nursing, landing a faculty position at the prestigious Yale School of Nursing.

These days, at the age of 90, she works with the Jackie Robinson Foundation in helping minority students earn college degrees and planning for a first-rate Jackie Robinson museum in New York City.

We might characterize her ongoing work, including her role as a consultant for 42, as advancing the legacy of her heroic husband. But Jackie Robinson would no doubt be the first to remind us that his legacy is also Rachel's.

Thank you, Rachel.