Jackie Robinson earned his place in history as the man who integrated Major League Baseball, forging a path later trekked by hundreds of black athletes in professional sports. Despite his proud legacy, though, few people are aware of the degree to which Robinson was isolated from the rest of the MLB - even his own teammates - as the only black player in what was then a white man's game.
Filmmaker Ken Burns' latest documentary, "Jackie Robinson," recalls the struggles Robinson faced after he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. He spent scarcely any time with his teammates on the road, for example, staying at segregated Jim Crow hotels and even eating his meals alone. A writer for the New York Post, Jimmy Cannon, once described Robinson as "the loneliest man I've ever seen."
"When this man passes away at age 53, he looked old...like he's a whitehaired, retired Pullman car porter," Burns told "Face the Nation" in an interview that will air this Sunday, one day before "Jackie Robinson" premieres Monday on PBS. "It was from the load he carried."
"He carried something for so many of us, and not just African Americans, but as he used to say, 'Decent whites' -- people who were concerned with advancing the progress of America," Burns added. "And that's why this story is so important...A lot of us talk the talk. He actually walked the walk. He got up every day and he went out to try to make lives better for everyone else. And that was an amazing accomplishment."
"Face the Nation" host John Dickerson asked Burns about what carrying all that weight did to Robinson - "What kind of character did it require?"
"Well, it's interesting because we think of him as the guy who, just Christ-like, turned the other cheek," Burns replied. "But in fact, he was angry and competitive and...impatient with being told, as African Americans had for decades, 'Just wait, be patient, be patient, be patient. It'll all come.'"
"It wasn't coming," Burns continued. "And he was pushing and pushing and pushing. So the turning...of the other cheek makes it more interesting. And I think our film is attempting to say there's a much more complicated person than the mythology. And by the way, that complicated person is even more mythological in its status. And I think that has its cost. I mean, to have put up with that day, after day, after day is an incredible burden to bear."