03/21/2013 04:05 pm ET Updated May 21, 2013

Jackie Robinson Beyond Home Plate

It's virtually impossible for us to imagine that Jackie Robinson could have been any more aggressive than he was when he stole home plate in the first game of the 1955 World Series. But in 1968 Robinson suggested that he pursued his post-baseball career -- which included fundraising for the NAACP, leading rallies with Martin Luther King, Jr., opening a bank in Harlem, fighting violence against African Americans, and paving the way for young movement leaders like Jesse Jackson -- with even greater ferocity than that he played with on the baseball diamond. "I think I've been much more aggressive since I left baseball," he stated.

Some of the best evidence to support this stunning claim comes from newspaper columns he penned for New York newspapers as well as hundreds of letters he wrote to leading figures of his day. These remarkable columns and letters show that Robinson was much more than the Hall of Fame baseball player who courageously shattered racial barriers in Major League Baseball. He was also a tireless civil rights leader in his own right, furious with racial injustice and positively committed to securing first class citizenship for all.

So as we gear up for the exciting release of 42 -- the new movie about his historic role in Major League Baseball -- let's also keep in mind the larger image of Jackie Robinson. And to help you do that, just take a moment and read the following excerpts from letters he wrote after retiring from baseball.

To Dwight D. Eisenhower, May 13, 1958, after the president called for "patience and forbearance" in the brewing civil rights conflict:

I was sitting in the audience at the Summit Meeting of Negro Leaders yesterday when you said we must have patience. On hearing you say this, I felt like standing up and saying, "Oh no! Not again." I respectfully remind you, sir, that we have been the most patient of all people.

To John F. Kennedy, February 9, 1961, shortly after the new president took office:

I would like to be patient, Mr. President, but patience has caused us years in our struggle for human dignity. I will continue to hope and pray for your continued leadership but will not refuse to criticize if the feeling persists that civil rights is not on the agenda for months to come.

To John F. Kennedy, May 7, 1963, after police dogs attacked schoolchildren demonstrating for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama:

I submit that you do have the power to cut off federal expenditures within a state which has become a police state and to declare martial law for the purpose of guaranteeing the safety of American citizens. The eyes of the world are on America and Americans of both races are looking to you.

To Malcolm X, December 14, 1963, after he criticized Robinson in a public letter:

Coming from you, an attack is a tribute ... Personally, I reject your racist views. I reject your dream of a separate state. I believe that many Americans, black and white, are committed to fighting for those freedoms for which Medgar Evers, William Moore, the Birmingham children and President John F. Kennedy died ... You mouth a big and bitter battle, Malcolm, but it is noticeable that your militancy is mainly expressed in Harlem where it is safe.

To Nelson Rockefeller, October 7, 1964, during the presidential campaign:

I see that Barry Goldwater is now, in your opinion, a man of courage and integrity. You know and I know that a Goldwater victory would result in violence and bloodshed. His candidacy reeks with prejudice and bigotry. His remark that this has become a nation ruled by minorities while the majority suffers is not only stupid but undeserving of support from a man with real courage and integrity.

To Martin Luther King, Jr., May 13, 1967, after his famous anti-war speech at Riverside Church in New York City:

Maybe I am wrong. But I feel you are utterly on the wrong track in your stand on Viet Nam ... [A]ren't you being unfair when you place all the burden of blame upon America and none upon the Communist forces we are fighting ... Why is it, Martin, that you seem to ignore the blood which is upon their hands and to speak only of the "guilt" of the United States? Why is it that you do not suggest that the Viet Cong cease, stop, withdraw also?

To Nelson Rockefeller, March 27, 1968, on the presidential campaign:

I cannot help but feel that Robert Kennedy is a vindictive opportunist. I wonder if it would be good for the country if the power of the presidency were in his hands. Nevertheless, I would have to support him over Richard Nixon ... I believe his attitude is dangerous and would cause more frustration than ever before in our ghettos. His statement, "order before progress," will be a constant reminder to Negroes of where Richard Nixon stands. I pray that he gets less than the 6% Negro vote that Goldwater got.

To Richard Nixon, February 9, 1970:

If you are sincere in wanting to win the respect of Black America, you must be willing to look at your own administration's attitude. There seem to be no key officials in your administration who have an understanding of what motivates black people. I find it difficult to believe there will be any, when it appears your most trusted advisers are Vice President Agnew, Attorney General Mitchell and Strom Thurmond.

To Nixon staffer Roland Elliot, April 20, 1972, after Robinson had criticized Nixon's anti-busing statements:

Black America has asked so little, but if you can't see the anger that comes from rejection, you are treading a dangerous course. We older blacks, unfortunately, were willing to wait. Today's young blacks are ready to explode! We had better take some definitive action or I am afraid the consequences could be nation shattering.

Coupled with his equally powerful newspaper columns, Robinson's historic letters help us complete our picture of the real Jackie Robinson -- a Hall of Fame player who made history, to be sure, but also an American prophet, an unflagging civil rights leader who personified first class citizenship and increasingly competed against anyone who would stand in his way.