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New York Celebrates Jackie Robinson in New Exhibit

HOST INTRO: 69 years ago today, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball when he played his first game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Here in Manhattan, Katie Ferguson went to the New York Historical Society to check out a new exhibit that features an important piece of that civil rights history. (0:14)

FERGUSON 1: Starting today, a heavy hitter of baseball–and civil rights–history is stepping up to the plate. At the New York Historical Society, Jackie Robinson’s original Major League Baseball contracts are on display.


These documents essentially integrated the single most important professional sports league in the country. (0:09)

FERGUSON 2: That’s Michael Ryan, the librarian at the New York Historical Society. These contracts made Robinson the first black player in the major league, when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Lifelong Dodgers fan Stuart Cohen stopped by to check out the exhibit. (0:14)

COHEN 1: Jackie was, you know, playing when I was a kid. Used to go to Ebbets Field with my brothers. (0:07)

FERGUSON 3: Cohen was just five years old when Robinson signed his barrier breaking contract, and he remembers Robinson as a baseball hero, one of the great players. (0:07)

COHEN 2: With Jackie, um, you know, he was just a hard ball player. He was very talented. It was always interesting when you would see him steal bases, and he was just a good all around player. (0:14)

FERGUSON 4: Though Cohen remembers him for his baseball, Robinson’s legacy goes beyond the ballpark. (0:05)

RYAN 4: There are many markers along the way in civil rights history, but this is one that really tends to get forgotten. (0:07)

FERGUSON 5: Michael Ryan of the New York Historical Society says the context in which Robinson signed his contract is especially significant. (0:06)


Even the Army is still segregated when Robinson signs these contracts, so this is a really, really crucial moment in American history, the moment when America’s biggest sports infatuation is integrated. (0:17)

FERGUSON 6: Robinson’s abilities in America’s favorite sport won him Rookie of the Year and eventual admission to the baseball Hall of Fame. But Ryan notes Robinson’s behavior on the field also established his legacy outside the park. He says the grace with which Robinson endured verbal taunts from fans and other players–including some on his own team–made him an especially visible civil rights figure of the time. And off the field, Robinson spoke out against racism across the United States, including in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. (0:25)


And I think the conscience of America is beginning to awaken. The only thing that we’re demanding is that we be allowed to move ahead just like any other American citizen. (0:13)

FERGUSON 7: So for Ryan, Robinson’s contracts represent not just a key piece of baseball history. He says they’re a key piece of American civil rights history. (0:08)


This is before Brown vs. Board of Education. These are documents that need to be celebrated, cherished, treasured, as one more assault against the legacies of segregation and slavery in this country. (0:15)

FERGUSON 8: Jackie Robinson’s contracts will be on display at the New York Historical Society until April 22nd. Katie Ferguson, Columbia Radio News. (0:07)


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