King, indeed, looked to Robinson as a forbearer of civil rights and racial integration in particular. He regularly corresponded with him and each time expressed great appreciation. Jackie Robinson found great respect for the Civil Rights Movement beginning with the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott prompted by Rosa Parks’ refusal to sit at the back of the bus. This action refl ected Robinson’s earlier 1944 bus encounter at Camp Hood in Texas. Here, Robinson, himself, refused to move from his seat for a white man. After words were exchanged, Robinson was removed and subsequently court martialed by the Army. He later was cleared of all charges and honorably discharged from the service.
In 1962, King served as the keynote speaker in honor of Robinson’s induction into the hall of fame. King eloquently paid tribute to Robinson as a pilgrim essentially that which sparked the later Civil Rights Movement. To King, Robinson was viewed as the fi rst civil rights icon:
Spelling out the meaning of Jackie Robinson’s example, King defended Robinson’s right, challenged by some observers who saw him as a faded athlete perilously beyond his depth, to speak out on matters such as politics, segregation, and civil rights. “He has the right,” King insisted stoutly, “because back in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable, he underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness which come with being a pilgrim walking the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sitinner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides. And that is why we honor him tonight.” (Taken from Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1962 Hall of Fame Testimonial Dinner Address as cited in Arnold Rampersad’s, Jackie Robinson: A Biography. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1997, 7).
King described the work of S.C.L.C. as linked to Robinson’s pioneering legacy of unselfi shness and quest for racial unity. King paid homage to Robinson’s athletic feat as enabling him to integrate sports, which extended into the business world. King also paid homage to Robinson’s unselfi shness in committing his stature and name toward uniting individuals for the cause of integration and social justice both in the South and North (Martin Luther King Jr. “On the Occasion of the Hall of Fame Dinner Honoring Jackie Robinson,” June 20, 1962. Accessed at The King Center Archives.)
King’s 1958 visit to Pasadena was followed by two additional visits before his death on April 4, 1968.
Dr. Jamal-Dominique Hopkins is Dean of the Dickerson-Green Theological Seminary and Department of Religion and Associate Professor of Religion at Allen University. He regularly teaches in the area of African American Religious Thought and Biblical Studies. He has lectured at such venues as Princeton Theological Seminary, Boston University, Emory University’s Graduate School of Religion, the Catholic University of America as well as the T.D. Jakes International Pastors and Leadership Conference and PISGAH Conference. Hopkins has also appeared on the Jude 3 and Tru-ID Podcasts and is a regular participant with the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies. He is the Author of “The Shaping and Infl uence of King’s Political Theology and Worldview,” published in the 2018 Telos Journal special edition and Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty Years On. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram