On his 103 birthday and one year after a plaque marking the birthplace of famous Pasadena athlete Jackie Robinson was defaced by gunfire in southwestern Georgia, Major League Baseball (MLB) made sure a new marker will stand in downtown Cairo in Grady County, Georgia, and that the original marker – with bullet impact marks on the commemoration – finds a new home.
Robinson, the first Black American to play in Major League Baseball, was born in Cairo to a family of sharecroppers. His family moved to Pasadena in 1920. They were the only black family on Pepper Street, and battled racism during their time there. Robinson graduated from John Muir High School and then UCLA, where he became the school’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track.
Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947.
In 2001, a plaque was erected in a small clearing of trees along Route 154, near a brick chimney that stands alone to remind people of Robinson’s birthplace which was located at the location.
Last year, caretakers discovered the plaque had been shot at several times. When the Georgia Historical Society saw the need to repair or replace it, they informed MLB, which decided to donate $40,000 for the renovation work.
A new plaque was installed in downtown Cairo, and the original defaced plaque was taken to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, where it stands “as a reminder that the ugliness of America’s past persists to this day,” as the museum said on Facebook.
Authorities in Georgia have not discovered who was responsible for defacing the marker.
April Brown, MLB’s vice president of social responsibility, said helping restore the plaque shows that the League wants “to make sure it’s something that stands forever.”
“Sometimes people do look at things as, ‘Oh, it’s just a physical signage,’” Brown told the New York Times last week. “But what it represents is how we can empower the community and audiences around social justice, and to empower and lift up those who fought for rights for all.”
Brown said the defacing of Robinson’s marker and of other memorials was “incredibly heartbreaking.” But she also saw an opportunity in the incident to call attention to the fact that vandalism directed at minorities is still happening.
“It’s still an indication of how much further our country needs to go,” she said. “It’s very unfortunate that whoever the individual or individuals were, they felt they needed to take it out on something that’s so iconic and for a man who left such a legacy in baseball and in America.”
MLB’s $40,000 donation was used to make a new aluminum birthplace marker and added a second one – at the Roddenbery Memorial Library in Cairo. The donation also established a fund for these markers’ upkeep.