Ken Burns says his new documentary about Jackie Robinson explodes the “good Negro” myth and reveals a much bigger American hero.
To Burns, the real Robinson was quite a fighter. He was also probably the most important person in American sports.
“You get rid of this sentimental nostalgia about Jackie, that he’s the ‘good Negro’ who turned the other cheek and behaved the way a Negro is supposed to at that time, and understand the fiery, competitive kid who’s unwilling to accept second-class status—and how he carried that throughout his professional life and into his post-baseball life until the very end. It’s an existential story about not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. We begin to realize how important Jackie is. He is obviously the most important person in the history of baseball, and I would suggest in American sports. But the story goes way beyond that.”
This true story of Robinson is all about Black Lives Matter, Burns believes.
“We felt that once you’re free from the barnacles of that sentimentality, once you’ve liberated them from the mythology, then all of a sudden, what’s this film about? Well, it’s about Black Lives Matter. They didn’t call it that back then. It’s about driving while black. It’s about stop-and-frisk. It’s about integrated swimming pools. It’s about the Confederate flag. It’s about black churches that are torched by arsonists.”
In fact, Robinson may have been the original Black Lives Matter activist. Burns says in the preview, below, that Robinson refused to sit in the back of the bus a decade before Rosa Parks did. Martin Luther King is quoted as saying Robinson was
“a sit-in-er before sit-ins and a freedom rider before freedom rides.”
Burns wants more of this, please. He says he hopes the film will inspire someone to
“roll up the sleeves and really, actually do something.”
Robinson’s wife, Rachel, now 93, is also featured in the film and gets tremendous credit for her husband’s accomplishments.
“’You begin to realize that: No Rachel, no Jackie,’ says Burns, who sees a parallel to President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. ‘Without her, Jackie probably can’t make it alone.’”
What could be a better tribute?
Jackie Robinson image Screengrab from YouTube.