CAIRO, GA (WALB) - April 1947 will always be remembered as the time when Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier is the sports world.
Robinson became the first African American to play for a major league baseball team.
Even though Robinson died at just 53-years-old, his family said he accomplished far more than what he originally thought was possible.
Robinson’s family said he was always resilient and persevered through life with a quiet courage.
“He was very outspoken, he was very fierce, he was very courageous, and he got all of that from his mom," said Dr. Linda Walden, Robinson’s third cousin.
Walden said the impact he had on America with his baseball career echoed in his political work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Walden believes Robinson died at an early age because of the immense stress he endured.
“Breaking the color barrier, how he was isolated, how he was tortured, how he had death threats, how they hit him with ball when it was time for him to come to bat," Walden said.
Walden said Robinson’s father left before he was born, leaving his mother with the sole responsibility to provide for the family.
However, Walden believes what Robinson was able to accomplish wouldn’t have been possible if he and his mother didn’t leave their home here in Cairo to move to California for the chance at a better life.
“Even though it looked bad that his father deserted the family, I tell people that is a blessing in disguise because had Jackie not left, had they not moved to Pasadena, he would not have done what he did," Walden pointed out.
Walden said she hopes Robinson will have an impact for the next generation of young boys and girls.
“Anyone who grew up in a single parent home, regardless of the mother the father, who left who, or how bad that parent was, just remember sometimes bad things happen for a good reason,” she said.
In her own practice as a physician, Walden said constantly tries to encourage her patients to be better — Sometimes using Robinson as an example and sometimes it doesn’t always end how she expects.
“I said let me tell you something, ‘did you know great people came from Cairo, Georgia that that made a difference for the United States of America?’ ‘Did you ever hear of Jackie Robinson?’ And hey would say ‘no,’" said Walden.
Walden said she’s made it her mission to make sure Robinson is known all throughout Grady County, such as turning his house into a historical site, and having roads named in his honor.
Forty-seven years later, Robinson’s legacy still lives on with people celebrating his 100th birthday.
The Boys and Girls Club in Cairo, and the Cairo High School baseball team are celebrating Robinson’s 100 birthday the best way they know how — by playing some ball.
“He’s our hero, he’s our hometown hero,” said Stephen Francis, Boys and Girls Club director.
Said Francis: “We’re going to go up there to the Jackie Robinson field, with all these kids dressed in baseball uniforms, Dodgers, and representing all the times in the major league and we’re going to have a big celebration.”
Francis said he tries to inspire the kids to embody what Robinson stood for and fought for, and incorporate that into their everyday lives.
“We understand that no matter what color you are, no matter where you come from, male or female, if you have a dream and you believe in it so deeply you can achieve whatever that dream is,” Francis said.
Francis said he reminds them that to accomplish anything important in life you may have to overcome obstacles, and adversity.
“Continue pushing and pressing your way, you’ll not only be able to impact a small town but you actually impact the whole community, the state, nation, possible even the whole world,” he said.
Francis said he encourages them to dream big like Robinson, adding it’s important for the kids to understand where Robinson came from and what was required of him to accomplish all that he did.