In the new Jackie Robinson biopic, “42,” out today, one thing is clear: Transforming the American pastime of baseball took nearly superhuman courage for him and his wife, Rachel.
In 1940, at the University of California-Los Angeles, she finished her education rather than drop out of college to marry the handsome, star varsity athlete she’d fallen in love with at first sight.
“Jack and I were engaged for five years,” she said. “And we had decided we would not get married until I graduated from college and he had a job. And the j-o-b was very important.”
Of course, Jackie Robinson’s job was really the start of the Civil Rights movement. Almost 66 years ago, he broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
But from the moment he and Rachel Robinson arrived for spring training in the Jim Crow South, it was a test of grace under pressure for both of them.
Despite the prejudice, she said she loved going to the ballpark.
“Oh, I loved it,” she told ABC News’ David Wright. “You couldn’t keep me away!”
She said they had a rule though. On their way home from the ballpark, they would talk about the job and its enormous challenges. But at their front door in Brooklyn, N.Y. — he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers — they left all of that outside.
“Our marriage and our love for each other were so important to us that we were not going to let it get destroyed by the tensions of the world,” Rachel Robinson said. “When we entered the house, we didn’t have to act out that anger and we wanted our home to be a haven, a place where we could recover, where we could enjoy each other. … No baseball.”
She said that surviving the abuse — with dignity — was tough for the couple but she said she had faith things could change.
Forty years after her husband’s death, Rachel Robinson, 90, is not just the guardian of his memory, but she has also helped many others follow in his footsteps.
At a White House screening of the movie this week, first lady Michelle Obama said Rachel Robinson had paved the way for millions of Americans in the U.S.
“She’s a woman of strength, of courage, conviction,” Obama said.
A scholarship program was founded by Rachel Robinson over 40 years ago in his name for the next generation of young minority men and women.
“We have graduated 1,400 students. … We have almost 200 in school now and they’re in 96 universities,” she said. “We use a quote of Jack’s: that a life’s not important except in the impact it has on the lives of others.”
ABC News’ David Wright contributed to this article.