Eleven years before his younger brother, Jackie, broke Major League Baseball's color barrier, Matthew "Mack" Robinson secured his place in history by winning the silver medal in the 200 meter sprint at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. He was part of the fabled American team that featured 19 black athletes (including Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe and Archie Williams) whose dominance in track and field shattered Nazi boasts of Aryan supremacy.
When Jesse Owens tore through the tape in the 200 in 20.7 seconds (securing one of his record-setting four gold medals), Mack Robinson was a mere four-tenths of a second behind. Robinson, who had first gained fame running track at Muir High School and Pasadena Junior College (today's PCC), streaked across the finish line in 21.1 seconds giving the US another one, two victory on Hitler's Olympic track.
Shamefully, Team USA's black heroes were largely ignored when they returned to the segregated United States after the Berlin games. Jesse Owens got a ticker tape parade in New York City but, because he was black, he had to take the freight elevator to the post-parade party honoring him at the Waldorf-Astoria. Mack Robinson wound up sweeping streets in Pasadena.
But in recent decades, due primarily to the determination of local African-American leaders, Pasadena has extended several tributes befitting Mack and Jackie Robinson's accomplishments. A few of the permanent reminders of the Robinson legacy are the Jackie Robinson Community Center, Robinson Park, PCC's Robinson Stadium, and the Robinson Memorial in Centennial Square near City Hall (which was dedicated in 1997, three years before Mack passed away at the age of 85).
Another great tribute will take place at Pasadena City College this Friday, July 18, which would have been Mack Robinson's 100th birthday. PCC has organized a VIP reception and memorabilia exhibit highlighted by Robinson's Olympic team sweater, the track shoes he wore in the fabled 200 meter final, and rarely seen footage including an interview in which Jesse Owens admits that he was a little worried about racing against Robinson. The celebration will also spotlight Mack Robinson's achievements at PCC where he set national records in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and long jump.
In addition to lauding his accomplishments as an athlete, the PCC celebration will feature family and friends who will share stories of Robinson's kindness and commitment to the Pasadena community – especially its youth.
Indeed, his dedication to young people is as much a part of Mack Robinson's legacy as are his triumphs in sports. As a truant officer, volunteer and prominent citizen, Mack Robinson extended a caring heart and expectations of excellence to kids. He once said, "My desire was to bring about a drastic change in education and the attitudes of America's youth." You'll find that credo engraved on the massive sculpture of Mack which stands alongside the likeness of his brother, Jackie, near from Pasadena City Hall.
For details about this Friday's Mack Robinson centennial celebration at Pasadena City College, phone (626) 585-7250 or visit www.pasadena.edu/commemorating-mack.