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Ken Burns's 'Jackie Robinson' to premiere on AETN April 11-12

Posted 28 Mar 2016

'Jackie Robinson,' a new two-part, four-hour documentary directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, will air Monday and Tuesday, April 11 and 12, at 8 each night on the Arkansas Educational Television Network. The film tells the story of Jack Roosevelt Robinson, who rose from humble origins to break baseball's color barrier and waged a fierce lifelong battle for first-class citizenship for all African-Americans that transcends even his athletic achievements.

'Jackie Robinson is the most important figure in our nation's most important game,' Ken Burns said. 'He gave us our first lasting progress in civil rights since the Civil War, and, ever since I finished my 'Baseball' series in 1994, I've been eager to make a stand-alone film about the life of this courageous American.

'There was so much more to say not only about Robinson's barrier-breaking moment in 1947, but about how his upbringing shaped his intolerance for any form of discrimination and how after his baseball career, he spoke out tirelessly against racial injustice, even after his star had begun to dim.'

AETN will host two screenings prior to the broadcast premiere of 'Jackie Robinson.' The public is invited to the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, 501 West 9th Street, Little Rock, Saturday, April 9, at 1 p.m. for a free screening and panel discussion organized by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute on Race and Ethnicity. On Sunday, April 10, AETN will host Jackie Robinson night at Dickey Stephens Park, providing a screening of the film at 4:30 p.m. with paid admission to the Arkansas Travelers game.

Additionally, AETN and the Boys & Girls Club of Central Arkansas Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities initiative will kick off a new season at Lamar Porter Field, 3200 West 7th Street, Little Rock, on Sunday, April 24, from 1-4 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. Donations of new and used sporting equipment will be accepted for participants in the RBI program, and scholarship opportunities will be available for children interested in joining the program.

Born in 1919 to tenant farmers in rural Georgia and raised in Pasadena, California, Robinson challenged institutional racism long before he integrated Major League Baseball. As a teenager, he demanded service at a Woolworth's lunch counter and refused to sit in the segregated balcony at a local movie theater. In 1944, while serving as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Robinson was arrested after he defied an order from a civilian bus driver to move to the back of a military bus. He was found not guilty.

In the spring of 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey signed Robinson to a major league contract. To help ensure the success of their endeavor, and protect the big league prospects of future black players, Robinson agreed to ignore the threats and abuse that Rickey assured him he would face. That season, Robinson kept his word, remaining silent while he dazzled fans with his brilliant play and helped lead the Dodgers to the National League pennant. By the end of the year, he was the most famous black man in the country and, in one poll, finished second only to Bing Crosby as the most popular American.

In 1949, Robinson began to speak out, challenging opposing players, arguing with umpires and speaking his mind to the press, and he played some of the best baseball of his career, winning the National League MVP award. Despite his accomplishments on the field, his outspokenness drew criticism across the league, from the press and even from black fans and players who worried he would set back the progress that they had achieved in baseball. When he retired in 1956, many were happy to see him go. 

After baseball, Robinson continued to use his immense fame to elevate the civil rights movement, voicing his views through a widely read newspaper column, raising money for the NAACP and Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and campaigning vigorously for candidates he believed would work to improve the lives of African-Americans. Meanwhile, in Stamford, Connecticut, the Robinson family faced the challenge of integrating schools, social clubs and Little League teams in their mostly white suburb, where residents and real estate agents had once tried to keep them from buying property.

The film features extensive interviews with Robinson's widow, Rachel, and their surviving children, Sharon and David, who witnessed firsthand how resistant society could be to equality.

In addition to Rachel, Sharon and David Robinson, 'Jackie Robinson' features interviews with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama; former Dodgers teammates Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine and Ralph Branca; writers Howard Bryant and Gerald Early; Harry Belafonte; Tom Brokaw; and Carly Simon. Jamie Foxx is the voice of Jackie Robinson, reading excerpts from his newspaper columns, personal letters and autobiographies.

Funding for the film is provided by Bank of America; Public Broadcasting Service; Corporation for Public Broadcasting; The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations; Dalio Foundation; Mr. Jack C. Taylor; and members of The Better Angels Society, including Jessica & John Fullerton and John & Catherine Debs.

'Jackie Robinson' is a production of Florentine Films and WETA, Washington, DC, in association with Major League Baseball. It is directed and produced by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon; written by David McMahon and Sarah Burns; edited by Lewis Erskine, A.C.E., George O'Donnell and Ted Raviv; cinematography by Buddy Squires, A.S.C.; original music by Wynton Marsalis and Doug Wamble; narrated by Keith David. Series advisors include Kevin Baker, Adrian Burgos, William E. Leuchtenburg; John Thorn, Khadijah White and Craig Steven Wilder.

The Arkansas Educational Television Network is Arkansas's statewide public television network that enhances lives by providing lifelong learning opportunities for people from all walks of life. AETN delivers local, award-winning productions and classic, trusted PBS programs aimed at sharing Arkansas and the world with viewers. AETN depends on the generosity of Arkansans and the State of Arkansas to continue offering quality programming. For more information, visit aetn.org. AETN is broadcast on KETS (Little Rock), KEMV (Mountain View), KETG (Arkadelphia), KAFT (Fayetteville), KTEJ (Jonesboro), and KETZ (El Dorado).