MLB

Jackie Robinson and Malcolm X Had a Years-Long Public Beef Over the Civil Rights Movement

Jackie Robinson is famous for breaking the MLB’s color barrier in 1947. As a symbol for the civil rights movement, he continued to advocate for equality in the African American community after his baseball career. 

Robinson wasn’t a fan of confrontation, always doing his best to avoid problems with others. However, he couldn’t hold in his animosity toward one famous civil rights activist.

Jackie Robinson was an athlete and an activist

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Before becoming an activist for the African American community, Jackie Robinson was excelling as a four-sport athlete. He played football, basketball, baseball, and ran track. Robinson would become a standout star in all four sports at John Muir High School. His athletic talents got him a scholarship at UCLA.

He famously shattered the color barrier in major league baseball on April 15, 1947, entering the game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. For a segregated league welcoming their first black player, Robinson endured numerous racist attacks, hate speech, and death threats. He never lost his cool, persevering through adversity.

Robinson’s career in baseball gets most of the attention, and deservedly so. But his work as an activist after playing doesn’t receive the proper recognition. He was very active in supporting the civil rights movement, helping the NAACP earn over $1 million in his first year assisting them, per MLB.com. He also participated in marches and hosted jazz concerts in his backyard to raise money for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

The effort Jackie Robinson put into supporting African Americans’ fight for civil rights is commendable. Using his platform and celebrity status, Robinson made a significant impact on bringing attention to the inequality Black people faced. 

“When he retired from baseball, he was excited to participate in the civil rights movement in a different kind of way. It was built into his contract with Chock full o’Nuts that he could spend as much time as needed with the civil rights movement,” said Sharon Robinson, Jackie’s daughter, per MLB.com.

Jackie Robinson had public beef with Malcolm X

Jackie Robinson smiles by his door that is for his new job at WNBC
Jackie Robinson had an intense public beef with Malcolm X over the civil rights movement | Keystone/Archive Photos/Getty Images

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He didn’t know it at the time, but Jackie Robinson had a huge fan. Malcolm Little was Robinson’s secret statistician as he sat in a prison cell located in Boston, Massachusetts, per The Undefeated. He listened to the baseball legend break the MLB’s color barrier on the radio in his cell. After converting to Islam, Little, now named Malcolm X, didn’t see Robinson as the ground-breaking hero he once did.

X preached about Black nationalism during his time with the Nation of Islam. He had the belief that Black people should live separately from their white counterparts. He believed white people were evil and “devils.” Jackie Robinson disagreed with this thinking, criticizing it in his piece for The Chicago Defender.

“Malcolm X and his organization believe in separation. They have every right to. If they want to go off into some all-black community, why don’t they just go,” Robinson said per The Undefeated.

The two public figures would criticize each other on several topics. Robinson believed that the Nation of Islam and X’s brash methods would destroy African Americans’ civil rights efforts. X thought that Robinson was playing into the white man’s hand and not looking out for the Black community. As their beef continued, the attacks became more personal. 

“You [Robinson] stay as far away from the Negro community as you can get. You never take an interest in anything in the Negro community until the white man himself takes an interest in it. You, yourself, would never shake my hand until you saw some of your white friends shake it,” X said.

Did Malcolm X and Jackie Robinson ever end their feud?

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In the middle of 1964, Malcolm X was a changed man. He wasn’t part of the NOI anymore, and his pilgrimage to Mecca opened his eyes to the world around him, according to The Undefeated. X still wanted equality for his people but no longer wanted Black separatism or saw white people as devils. His willingness to work with the same civil rights leaders he called “handkerchief-headed Uncle Toms” a year earlier surprised Jackie Robinson.

X wouldn’t live to see the fruition of his work, as he was assassinated on February 21, 1965. Despite his history with Malcolm X, the baseball legend was sad to hear he passed away. Both men were fighting for the same goal; they just had different avenues to get there. Robinson didn’t agree with everything X said, but he knew his fellow civil rights activist understood the plight African Americans were facing.

“I disagreed with Malcolm vigorously in many areas during his earlier days, but I certainly agreed with him when he said, ‘Don’t tell me about the progress the black man has made. You don’t stick a knife 10 inches in my back, pull it out three or four, then tell me I’m making progress,’” Robinson said via The Undefeated.

Who knows what great things the two could’ve accomplished if they had a chance to hash things out.