Rachel Robinson
National Visionary

Born July 19, 1922 in Los Angeles, CA

Founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation; wife of the man who broke baseball’s color barrier

Business leader, activist, professor, nurse, wife, and mother, and grandmother, Rachel Robinson is a woman of enormous accomplishments of her own and those achieved jointly with her husband, Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947 when he played with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Rachel Robinson was born Rachel Annetta Isum on July 19, 1922 to parents Zelle and Charles Raymond Isum. After graduating from the Manual Arts High School in 1940, Robinson entered the nursing program at UCLA. During this time, she met an up-and-coming baseball player named Jackie Robinson. He proposed almost immediately, but their plans were put on hold when Jackie was drafted into the Army and Robinson decided to finish her schooling.

Robinson earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of California and later earned a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing from New York University. She worked as a researcher and clinician at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Department of Social and Community Psychiatry; a position she held for five years. Robinson then became Director of Nursing for the Connecticut Mental Health Center and an Assistant Professor of Nursing at Yale University.

Throughout the 1960s, the Robinsons became increasingly active in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, Robinson hosted a jazz concert at their home in Connecticut to raise bail money for the student protestors jailed in Birmingham. The event was attended by Martin Luther King, Jr. and continued annually as the Afternoon of Jazz until 2002.

The 1970s were trying times for the Robinson family. In 1971, Jackie, Jr. died in a car accident. In 1972, Jackie Robinson, at the age of 53, died of a heart attack. Then, Rachel Robinson’s mother died in April 1973. In the face of profound loss, Robinson turned her energies toward memorializing the lives and achievements of those whose lives had meant so much to her. In 1972, she incorporated the Jackie Robinson Development Corporation, a real estate development company specializing in low- to moderate-income housing, and served as president for ten years. In 1973, she founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a not-for-profit organization providing educational and leadership opportunities for minority students. The Foundation has provided support for over 1,000 minority students, and has maintained a 97% graduation rate among its scholars.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
In addition to her tireless work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, Robinson continues to participate in national efforts to recognize her husband. In 1996, she authored Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait, published by Abrams Publishing Company. In 1997, Robinson participated in a series of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integration of major league baseball. In 2005, Robinson accepted the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Bush on behalf of Jackie Robinson.

Over the years, Robinson earned numerous awards herself. In addition to earning twelve honorary doctorates, Robinson was awarded the Candace Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Equitable Life Black Achiever's Award and the Associated Black Charities Black History Makers Award. Rachel Robinson has two children and has fifteen grandchildren.


Rachel Robinson's Wikipedia Page

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/robinsonrachel