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Robinson brothers honored in Pasadena

April 15, 1997

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) _ Long before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier 50 years ago, he spent his childhood in Pasadena, where he and the rest of the black community faced many other barriers.

Now, much is being done to celebrate Robinson’s upbringing here, along with his brother, Mack, who won a silver medal in the 100-meter dash in the 1936 Olympics, finishing behind Jesse Owens.

Large sculptures of the Robinson brothers will be installed in Centennial Square on Sept. 20.

On Tuesday _ 50 years to the day after Robinson first played in a game for the Brooklyn Dodgers _ models of those sculptures were unveiled at the Pasadena Library as about 200 people watched.

``The community has wanted to see this for over 20 years, something to celebrate Mack and Jackie Robinson in the Pasadena community,″ said Diane Scott, executive director of the Pasadena Robinson Memorial.

Pasadena hasn’t always been so eager, according to Don Wheeldin, 83, a longtime civil rights leader in the community.

``The city was hostile about opening things up because of the history,″ Wheeldin said after the ceremony. ``That’s why Jackie would never come back to live here, because of how things were.″

``A whole lot of Jackie’s memories (of Pasadena) were not pleasant. He remembered the racist treatment,″ Wheeldin said.

``(Blacks) couldn’t go in the restaurants here, they could only swim one day a week at the municipal pool. And it was made clear the pool was washed out thoroughly. It made a bitter impression.″

Robinson was born in Cairo, Ga., on Jan. 31, 1919, and his family moved to Pasadena the next year. He went to school in the community through junior college before attending UCLA, where he’s the only athlete to letter in baseball, football, basketball and track.

Robinson’s widow, Rachel, didn’t attend Tuesday’s ceremony. She was in New York with President Clinton to honor Robinson at Tuesday night’s Dodgers-Mets game.

Mack Robinson, 82, and not in the best of health, didn’t attend, either, but several family members were on hand.

``It’s nice, thrilling, exciting to see what they’re doing for both of them,″ said Dominick Robinson, 13, a grandson of Mack’s.

When asked to describe his grandfather and great uncle, Dominick said, ``Brilliant, outstanding, different from anyone else.″

Councilwoman Joyce Streater said the ceremony became even more exciting after Tiger Woods became the first black golfer to win the Masters.

``As Tiger said, if it wasn’t for the Robinsons and others, Sunday might not have happened,″ Streater said. ``(Jackie) blazed a trail. Jack took all the knocks, he did it with such dignity, such poise. It made it easier for others to follow.″

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