In 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was unable to attend a dinner in honor of Jackie Robinson in advance of Robinson's induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Here's the telegram Dr. King wrote to Mr. Robinson:
In case you're having trouble reading this image, here's the text of King's dispatch:
Warmest heartfelt greetings to all of you assembled on this auspicious occasion. An important turn of events in Albany, GA, made it imperative for me to return here immediately. Had looked forward with great anticipation to being with you tonight. Can think of nothing I regret more than having to miss this opportunity to personally join with you in this testimonial to one of the truly great men of our nation.
—Martin Luther King Jr.
As pointed out on TeachingHistory.org, King simply could not turn away from his pressing mission in Albany, Ga. A week later, he was jailed there.
Historian Pellam McDaniels III notes that this was no easy decision for King, who recognized and cherished Robinson's central importance to the Civil Rights movement:
King could not attend this dinner. In fact, King was one of the coordinators of the dinner. He was helping a number of people acknowledge the significance of Jackie Robinson's contribution. The fact that he was being inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame three days later was important because, again, Robinson was the first African American to play in the major leagues in the modern era. Those that played -- the last group of African Americans that played played in the 1880s; so Robinson becoming the first integrated baseball [player] in 1947 was significant. Reason being, he was the first to demonstrate this idea of integration in a public way. His baseball play on the baseball field was a demonstration of the ability of African Americans to persevere. The things that he was able to achieve, the things that he endured made him an example for people like Dr. King; it was an example for young men like an Arthur Ashe. So this Testimonial Dinner was to acknowledge his accomplishments.
It's no surprise that two sky-scraping contemporaries who shared greater goals would cross paths in such a way. Indeed, as Richard Justice reminds us over at MLB.com, King credited baseball's African-American pioneers for "shaking the gates" in their own way. As King, mere weeks before his assassination, once told Dodgers great Don Newcombe:
"You'll never know how easy you and Jackie [Robinson] and [Larry] Doby and Campy [Roy Campanella] made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field."
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Happy baseball.
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