The Jackie Robinson Foundation is moving forward with plans to build a museum at the site of their Varick Street headquarters -- right in the shadow of the Holland Tunnel in Lower Manhattan -- that will tell Robinson's story and legacy to future generations. That project was originally slated to be finished in 2010, but circumstances changed its trajectory.
Robinson famously changed sports and American society forever when he broke baseball's color barrier on April 15, 1947, and he will be remembered throughout the country Friday on the 64th anniversary of his historic feat. The museum dedicated to his memory is likely a couple years away, but the space is already accounted for and the rest is in the works.
Della Britton Baeza, president and chief executive officer of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, said that $1 million has been raised for the project in the last six months and estimated that construction could begin next spring.
"We're back in full-throttle fund-raising," Britton Baeza said. "It was a tough economy the last couple years, but the truth is we're as excited about it as ever and it looks like we are going to be able to start the program charretting, which is essentially think-tank sessions around projects like a museum or a special exhibition. We're now looking at some of the programming options, because that obviously will affect the architectural piece. So we're heading toward the goal line."
The advertisements are already in place outside the building, with paneled pictures of Robinson sitting beneath words like "Visionary," "Patriot" and "Hall of Famer." Robinson is pictured sitting with Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in one picture, and he's captured in his World War II uniform in another iconic shot.
And that's the story the Jackie Robinson Foundation hopes to tell, the man who overcame historic odds and opened the doors to generations of people behind him. The foundation has been dedicated to providing scholarships and improved educational opportunities to minority students in need of financial assistance, and the museum will have a similar bent.
"That's what we're beginning to [brainstorm] about," Britton Baeza said. "They really are intertwined. We view every opportunity to talk about Jackie's life and his place in American history as an educational experience, indeed a teaching moment. With the sort of program element of the museum -- where we talk about not just his baseball life but also his life as a civil-rights advocate, a businessman and as an advocate generally for the disenfranchised -- we really are excited about bridging the story of Jackie Robinson and how we can teach other people to live a life with the same kind of values."
The museum will be open to the public, but it also plans on tailoring programs specifically to school-age visitors. Britton Baeza referenced the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, which has opened its doors in a variety of ways.
"We frequently get calls from schools of all levels -- from elementary schools to high schools and even some colleges and universities -- wanting information about Jackie," she said. "We hope to take that interest and mold it into a program that responds to teachers' interest in using Jackie Robinson's life as a teaching mechanism. And a good example of that is what the Baseball Hall of Fame does. They actually have a whole curriculum online that allows schools to plug into the Hall of Fame remotely, where they can do everything from walking through exhibits to actually providing teaching guides."
Britton Baeza said the Jackie Robinson Foundation has leaned on the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for advice, and she also said that the Yankees and Mets have both donated at least $1 million to the project. The museum may also receive funding from the city and state levels at some point before it becomes a reality.
Robinson's story is never really far from the American consciousness, and he has a display of his memorabilia in Cooperstown. But this will be different, a place for people to come and pay tribute to a man who changed their lives. Britton Baeza said she constantly keeps her eye on the news for mentions of Jackie Robinson, and she said she's noticed a pattern. Interest peaks around his birthday, during Black History Month and on Jackie Robinson Day, but it never really fades.
"The truth is, it's all year," said Britton Baeza. "And one of the things about the media coverage that interests me is the many instances of comparing Jackie to the first in other disciplines. I read something recently that somebody was the first black PhD at a southern college, and they said he was the Jackie Robinson of that university. It's really amazing how his name has become synonymous with pioneering, and in a good way. That pops up a lot. Indeed, even when President Obama won the election, there were a lot of parallels between his election as the first black President and what Jackie had done."
The Jackie Robinson Foundation moved to its newest headquarters about three years ago with the museum project in mind, and Britton Baeza said that they can finally see the faint outlines of it coming to fruition. People can donate at JackieRobinson.org, and the Foundation already has been moved by the outpourings of support.
"It's very exciting," Britton Baeza said. "What's been one of the driving forces is a lot of people who have responded to the museum online and say things like, 'I have some piece of memorabilia from Ebbets Field,' or 'I have an autograph I got from Jackie 55 years ago.' We have been getting calls with regard to long-term fans who remember Jackie. I know Major League Baseball has the "I am 42" campaign, and we have a lot of people with a lot of interest in stories about the museum."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.