Strength for the Fight: The Life and Faith of Jackie Robinson
By Gary Scott Smith
(Eerdmans, 315 pages, $25)
Today, April 15, is Jackie Robinson Day. This annual commemoration by Major League Baseball of its first black player, the man who broke the “color barrier,” began on April 15, 2004, when MLB officials celebrated Robinson’s April 15, 1947, debut with the iconic Brooklyn Dodgers. It turned out to not be a one-time thing. The MLB now honors the day every April 15, with players and managers alike sporting Robinson’s jersey number, No. 42.
It’s a worthy tribute. Unlike the sad display by craven MLB officials coerced to hang BLM banners or harassed by LGBTQ bullies into donning gay pride logos, it’s hard not to empathize with honoring Jackie Robinson. The man truly transformed America’s national pastime and America itself. He fully deserves this place in history.
Robinson was honored in 2013 with a major motion picture, titled 42, which stars a talented actor and seemingly fine young man named Chadwick Boseman, who tragically departed this world way too early (as did the man he played). Robinson most recently has been honored with a superb book by my longtime Grove City College colleague, Gary Scott Smith, titled Strength for the Fight: The Life and Faith of Jackie Robinson.
What makes Smith’s work so thoroughly excellent is its focus on Robinson’s faith. Smith, a historian of sports and religion, including via his seminal book on faith and the presidency, is one of the few historians who understands and relates the secret to Robinson’s success: faith.
Faith, faith, faith.
It inspired both Robinson and the man who brought him into baseball, Branch Rickey. Robinson would have been the first to admit that he would have never persevered without his intense reliance on God. He spent every night on his knees next to his bed. That was how he got through.
Ronald Reagan often invoked his favorite Abraham Lincoln quote in speeches: “I’m often driven to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go.” That was where Jackie Robinson likewise found himself.
Outrageously, but not surprisingly, Hollywood’s rendition of Robinson’s life ignores all of that. It’s another symptom of Hollywood’s rot.
Gary Scott Smith’s book certainly does not make that mistake. It’s a thorough portrayal of Robinson’s faith and life, as well as his politics.
To that end, many readers here probably know that Jackie Robinson was a lifelong Republican. Leftists today will want to begrudge that, insisting that surely Robinson was a mighty progressive just like them. But Robinson’s politics were not theirs. They were very distinctive.
For one, as Gary Scott Smith describes it, Robinson by the 1960s was a Rockefeller Republican — that is, Nelson Rockefeller. Liberals will be eager to try to claim Robinson in that respect, given that Rockefeller was known to be a liberal Republican. But they must also be willing to concede that they and conservative Republicans alike detested the “Country Club Republicanism” that Rockefeller represented. When Democrats blast Republicans as the “party of the rich,” well, that was Rockefeller Republicanism. For various odd reasons, Robinson, who a generation earlier would have been banned from country clubs by Rockefeller types, took a liking to the obscenely wealthy New York governor.
What further separates Robinson from left-wingers was his intense Christian faith. Again, that was the core of his life. Jackie Robinson would be aghast at the radical secularism of today’s progressives.
Moreover, Robinson was a strong anti-communist. In fact, he was such a committed anti-communist that the House Committee on Un-American Activities went to him in July 1949 as a friendly witness to denounce communism. An added motivation for Congress was that another prominent black American athlete (as well as singer/performer), Paul Robeson, was a shameless Stalinist who had just said (in June 1949) that in a war between the United States and USSR, black Americans would not fight for Uncle Sam.
That was obvious idiocy, and an awful smear of fellow black Americans, huge numbers of which had just fought for America in World War II, even in segregated units. What Paul Robeson really meant was that he and his screwy commie buddies in the Communist Party USA wouldn’t fight for America against the Russkies.
Speak for yourself, comrade Paul!
In his testimony before Congress, Jackie Robinson called Paul Robeson’s claims about black Americans “untrue” and “silly.” They indeed were. Paul Robeson might have been head over heels for Uncle Joe Stalin, but Jackie Robinson certainly wasn’t.
Like Martin Luther King, Jr. and like less prominent but heroic black Americans such as Manning Johnson, Jackie Robinson’s staunch Christian faith was a critical factor in his opposition to atheistic communism. “I am a religious man,” Robinson explained to Congress in his July 1949 testimony. “Therefore, I cherish America, where I am free to worship as I please, a privilege which some countries [including the Soviet Union] do not give. And I suspect that 999 out of 1,000 colored Americans will tell you the same.”
Jackie Robinson’s math was spot-on. Paul Robeson was the one ideological sap out of 1,000 so duped by the Kremlin that he didn’t know any better.
“I was not prepared for the happiness I see on every face in Moscow,” Robeson gushed to the Daily Worker (Jan. 15, 1935 edition) after returning home from his December 1934 pilgrimage to Stalin-land. “I was aware there was no starvation here, but I was not prepared for the bounding life; the feeling of abundance and freedom that I find here, wherever I turn.” Robeson beamed: “This is home to me. I feel more kinship to the Russian people under their new society than I ever felt anywhere else. It is obvious there is no terror here, that all the masses of every race are contented and support their government.”
As for those who disagreed inside the grand old USSR, Paul Robeson actually said to the Daily Worker: “From what I have already seen of the workings of the Soviet Government, I can only say that anybody who lifts his hand against it ought to be shot!”
Yes, Paul Robeson actually said that. (I have the front page of the Daily Worker.) It’s why people of Robeson’s day knew he was a fool, even as today’s fools are taught that Robeson was some great icon of civil liberties, and as colleges like Penn State University name centers and buildings after him.
The likes of Jackie Robinson could only read statements like that and sigh.
Robinson was not only a keen athlete dashing around the bases, but he also had a keen intellect. He must be remembered for what he did both on and off the field.
Sadly, his time off the field was short-lived. He died in October 1972 at age 53. “After numerous health problems including heart disease, diabetes, failing eyesight and substantial heartache (most notably the death of his son Jackie Jr. in a car crash the previous year), Robinson suffered a heart attack at his home in North Stamford, Connecticut,” writes Gary Scott Smith. “The stress and strain of integrating Major League Baseball and helping to lead the civil rights movement had taken its toll.”
Another great American who proceeded to recognize Robinson’s contributions was President Ronald Reagan, who on March 26, 1984, posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That day, Reagan handed the medal to Robinson’s widow, Rachel, a lovely, gracious woman who is still with us today at the age of 100. Reagan said of Robinson: “He struck a mighty blow for equality, freedom, and the American way of life. Jackie Robinson was a good citizen, a great man, and a true American champion.”
On this date, baseball and America rightly pay him homage.