Leah Wright-Rigueur

Leah Wright-Rigueur

Historian, Author, & Political Scholar.

5 Ways Jackie Robinson was different from Modern Republicans

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Nearly everyone knows Jackie Robinson for his baseball accomplishments, but few people know about his work within the GOP.”I’m a black man first, an American second, & then I will support a political party—third.” 


[dropcap]1.[/dropcap]Jackie Robinson was a civil rights activist.

Robinson described himself as a “militant black Republican” committed to civil
rights and racial justice. He worked extensively with New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and lobbied aggressively, on a national stage, to rid the GOP of its racist, segregationist, and – in his own words – “Uncle Tom” element. Robinson once labeled fellow liberal black Republican Edward Brooke a “white folk’s Negro” for campaigning on behalf of Richard Nixon stating:

[x_blockquote cite=”Jackie Robinson” type=”left”]”One cannot honestly claim to be working for the best interests of black people & climb into bed with a Nixon who has prostituted himself for the Strom Thurmonds of the Old South.”[/x_blockquote]

[dropcap]2.[/dropcap]Martin Luther King, Jr. deposited his Nobel Peace Prize award money in Robinson’s bank.

Jackie Robinson was one of the co-founders of Harlem’s black-owned and operated Freedom National Bank, where Martin Luther King, Jr. deposited his Nobel Peace Prize award money. Though Robinson was far more conservative than King, the two men established a lifelong friendship, based on a shared commitment to social and economic justice.

Robinson wore an “Organization for Civil Rights” badge during the Louisville march with King.

[dropcap]3.[/dropcap]After Goldwater was nominated, Robinson denounced the GOP.

Barry Goldwater voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, an act that Robinson found unpardonable. He crossed party lines that same year and organized a chapter of Republicans for Lyndon B. Johnson. At the same time, he maintained his close friendship with Republican Nelson Rockefeller, later becoming a consultant for the New York governor’s administration.

[dropcap]4.[/dropcap] Jackie Robinson co-founded the National Negro Republican Assembly (NNRA).

Formed as a reaction to Goldwater’s Republican presidential nomination, the NNRA was an organization that demanded that the GOP recognize and address racial equality. Its members advocated for liberal and moderate Republican philosophies, and campaigned against conservative candidates who failed to embrace civil rights – including Ronald Reagan.

For Robinson and many members of the NNRA, Ronald Reagan was the embodiment of the “lunatic fringe right” of the GOP. In 1966, while campaigning for governor of California, Reagan met with the NNRA, an incident that ended with the politician running out of the room in tears after black Republicans confronted him over his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

[dropcap]5.[/dropcap]Robinson was a constant “thorn in the flesh” of the GOP.

Robinson once told an interracial group of Republicans: 

“I am certainly not a safe Republican… I am weary of the black man going hat in hand shoulders hunched & knee
pads worn, to Uncle Tom to the enemies of our progress.”Harvard Professor
Race and Politics Expert

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