March 12th, 2021

Educator Voice: Jackie Robinson and the perils of freezing superheroes in time

Arts & CultureSocial StudiesU.S.U.S. history
Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers, posed and ready to swing in 1954. Photo by Bob Sandberg via Library of Congress (L). Robinson and his son David are interviewed during the March on Washington, August 28, 1963 via Wikipedia (R).


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“He struggled mightily with turning the other cheek.” — Dr. Michael G. Long

“Rachel, his widow, is very clear — his name was Jack. Jackie is the creation of the media and the creation of that moment and how we memorialize him and in some sense freeze him.” — Dr. Yohuru Williams


PBS NewsHour EXTRA held its Educator Zoom series in February with Dr. Michael G. Long, author and professor at Elizabethtown College, and Dr. Yohuru Williams, founding director of the Racial Justice Initiative at the University of St. Thomas. The event was hosted by Sari Beth Rosenberg, New York City public school history teacher.

The conversation focused on the new book “42 Today: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy” (2021), edited by Long with a chapter by Williams,“I’ve Got to Be Me: Robinson and the Long Black Freedom Struggle.” 

Courtesy: Jackie Robinson Foundation

Robinson became the first African American to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947. While a remarkable achievement, both Long and Williams warn against “freezing” Robinson at this point in history.

Robinson served in the U.S. military during World War II and was a father to three children, husband to Rachel Robinson, a businessman, a mentor and an “informal” civil rights leader, according to Long.

Greg Timmons, long-time social studies teacher and curriculum writer for PBS’s “Jackie Robinson” produced by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahonon, was also on the Zoom. You can find lesson plans by Timmons about the National Negro Leagues; Robinson’s life before baseball in which he was court-martialed in 1944 for not moving to the back of a bus; Rachel Robinson, who played a pivotal role in her husband’s career while earning a nursing degree and raising three children and Robinson’s impact on baseball and civil rights on PBS Learning Media.

Dr. Yohuru Williams discussing Jackie Robinson’s court-martial in 1944 after refusing to move to the back of a military bus on PBS NewsHour EXTRA’s Educator Zoom. The Army had passed a regulation prohibiting discrimination on Army vehicles operating on Army posts.

Timmons also wrote these lessons on Jackie Robinson for Scholastic, “Breaking Barriers: Classroom Resources” for grades 3-5 and grades 4-9.

Watch the full session and summary highlights below or listen in podcast format here.


Highlight clips:

Dr. Michael G. Long summarizes his takeaways:


Dr. Yohuru Williams summarizes his takeaways:


Additional resources:

National Archives’ DocsTeach website has digitized many of Jackie Robinson’s letters

The Jackie Robinson Foundation has teaching resources including virtual field trips

Georgia Historical Society: Educator resources on Robinson from his home state

In February 2021, Jackie Robinson’s historical marker in Georgia, along with a couple of other civil rights plaques including one for lynching victims, was riddled with bullets. Ask your students: Were you surprised to hear how such an event could take place 70 years after Robinson’s broke the color barrier in professional baseball? Why or why not?

Courtesy: Georgia Historical Society

You can read more here: “EXCLUSIVE: Historical markers about Black Georgians shot, vandalized” from the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

If you would like to contribute to Educator Voice, NewsHour EXTRA’s blog on how current events affect life for educators including school personnel, please send your idea to Vic Pasquantonio at

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