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Jackie Robinson Museum makes long-awaited groundbreaking

The Jackie Robinson Museum held a groundbreaking ceremony on April 27, 2017 in lower Manhattan.  The Museum will honor the Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson who broke baseball's color barrier April 15, 1947. It is scheduled to open in the spring of 2019 on the corner of Canal and Varick streets. (Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang)

Rachel Robinson turns 95 in July, and on Thursday she received what her daughter Sharon regarded as an early gift to celebrate the milestone.

“I figure this is her birthday present,” the younger Robinson said after a groundbreaking ceremony for the Jackie Robinson Museum in lower Manhattan. “This is her last big effort on her list of things she wanted to have done for the legacy.”

Rachel, Jackie’s widow, was on hand for the event at the museum’s site at 75 Varick Street, as was Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and other dignitaries.

The groundbreaking for the museum, scheduled to open in the spring of 2019, was a long time coming — a very long time. The Jackie Robinson Foundation secured the site in 2007, but it took a decade — as long as Robinson played in the major leagues — to collect funds sufficient to move forward.

Strada Education Network provided the final piece of the financial puzzle earlier this year as part of a $6.5 million grant to the foundation.

Della Britton Baeza, the foundation’s president, said the organization raised the $25 million necessary to open the museum but would need an additional $18 million to establish an endowment to maintain the facility.

Manfred called Robinson breaking MLB’s color barrier in 1947 the greatest moment in the history of baseball and said he looked forward to the museum furthering Robinson’s legacy.

“The plans I’ve seen suggest to me it will be a modern, engaging experience, an experience that will be important to young people from an educational perspective,” he said.

“I think Jackie Robinson is in a class by himself and it really is impossible to do enough to recognize what he means and continues to mean to the process of change in the United States,” Manfred later added.

Sharon Robinson said she hopes the museum will give visitors “an understanding of a complete life.” At 67, she is too young to recall her father playing — he retired after the 1956 season — but recalls him as an “activist.”

She said it was a big moment for the family to have the museum closer to a reality after the long wait.

“If you owned a home (in 2007) you would understand very well, there was a lot of frustration because our economy tanked and we had to focus on our (foundation) program,” she said.

Now it is time at last to gather material. Sharon said one of her first missions would be to fetch her mother’s wedding dress for an exhibit on her parents’ marriage.

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