BILOXI -- The NAACP Biloxi Branch celebrated the 59th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's historic debut in a Major League Baseball game by recognizing the iconic player as well as area notables, present and past, who have embodied the spirit of Robinson's journey.
On Friday afternoon at the Martin Luther King Municipal Building, the second annual Spirit of Jackie Robinson awards program paid tribute to Robinson, and major league players across the country all wore No. 42 to honor the first black player on the anniversary of his first game in the majors in 1947.
"We wanted to do something proactive with professional baseball coming to Biloxi," said Biloxi NAACP Baseball Diversity Committee chairman Gordon Jackson. "We made a proactive maneuver to work with Tim Bennett and the Shuckers organization.
"Jackie had to overcome a lot of adversity, the racist taunts. He had to overcome 60 years of blacks not being allowed to play in the league. It once looked like the big wall wasn't going to be torn down. He had to learn to discipline himself so that he wouldn't react in a way that would cause any harm toward the progress he was making.
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"The fact is, if he had failed, then Major League Baseball would have had an excuse to not bring in another black player for another 20 years.
"The people we recognize today had to overcome some of their own barriers as they achieved the things they have." Receiving the "Spirit of Jackie Robinson" awards were Rip Daniels of WJZD 94.5 FM, host of "It's a New Day with Rip Daniels"; Katherine Egland, National NAACP board member and activist: Rosell Horne (posthumously), owner of the Negro Leagues' Biloxi Dodgers; Davey Whitney (posthumously), Kansas City Monarchs baseball shortstop and former men's head basketball coach at Alcorn State University; Ruth Story, executive director of the Education, Economics, Environmental Climate and Health Organization; Sonya Williams-Barnes, state representative and chair of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus; William Windham (posthumously), manager of the Biloxi Dodgers; and the University of Mississippi NAACP Chapter for spearheading a campaign that led to the removal from the campus of the state flag branded with the Confederate emblem.
Friday's program also paid tribute to the people around Jackie Robinson who helped him in his journey. Students from the Boys & Girls Club of Biloxi enacted characters through first-person readings. Hillary Perryman, 10, a fifth-grader at Nativity Elementary School read the story of Jackie's mother, Mallie Robinson's. Monica Young, 10, a fifth-grader at Gorenflo Elementary, read Jackie's wife Rachel Robinson's story; Timothy Graham, 11, a sixth-grader at Biloxi Junior High School, read Branch Rickey's story; Oliver Young, 12, a sixth-grader at Biloxi Junior High, read Jackie's story. Champion boxer Joe Louis and Jackie's brother Mack Robinson were presented by Jackson.
"It is very important that we pay tribute to what Jackie Robinson stood for," said Tim Bennett, owner of the Biloxi Shuckers. "It is important to give recognition to Jackie Robinson and to the city of Biloxi for stepping up."