The closeness of the dates is ironic.
President Abraham Lincoln, the savior of the Union, was murdered on April 14, 1865.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson heroically integrated Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947.
America would look much different today had President Lincoln presided over Reconstruction.
His second inaugural address on March 4, 1865, hints at that.
We might have gotten the Civil Rights Act of 1964 some 60 years earlier.
This much we can say with certainty.
No one picked up the torch of equality and justice fallen from President Lincoln’s hand in Ford’s Theater more dramatically than Jackie Robinson.
A baseball player.
In 1968, less than two weeks from his own murder in Memphis, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., told Don Newcombe, “Don, it’s because of what you and Jackie and Campy (Roy Campanella) and Larry Doby did in baseball that I’ve been able to do what I have in the civil rights movement.”
More recently, President Barack Obama pulled Newk aside backstage at a USC event and told him, “Don, what you did helped make it possible for me to be elected President of the United States.”
A lot of us like to think, and pray, that Dr. King was part of the welcoming committee for Newk at the gates of Heaven back on Feb. 19.
Jackie and his wingmen, Campy and Newk, are together again, forever.
So many doors were slammed so hatefully and stupidly in their faces.
Now every door is open to everyone, thanks to their courage and the millions its inspired.
As President Bush said in awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Robinson’s widow, Rachel, in a ceremony under the Capitol Dome in 2005, “Jackie Robinson was a freedom rider before there were any freedom rides.”
Jackie Robinson didn’t just change Baseball.
He changed America.
It makes you proud to be a baseball fan.
There are many Jackie Robinson Parks across the nation.
But ours in Littleneck is one of the few the great man ever visited.
He was there for the dedication in 1972, a few months before he died.
Take some time to visit our living monument to the great man sometime.
If it’s a particularly radiant day, no wonder.
That’s Jackie and Campy, and now Newk, smiling down on us.