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Jackie Robinson’s 1963 Telegram to JFK: “The World Cannot Afford to Lose MLK”

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Jackie Robinson sent this telegram to President John F. Kennedy on June 15, 1963, three days after the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. In it, Robinson asked Kennedy to do everything possible to protect Martin Luther King Jr. on his trip to Mississippi to attend Evers’ funeral.

“Should harm come to King to add to the misery which decent Americans of both races experienced with the murder of Mr. Evers,” Robinson warned, “the restraint of many people all over this nation might burst its bonds and bring about a brutal bloody holocaust the like of which this country has not seen.”

Robinson added, in a phrase that later events rendered sadly prescient: “The world cannot afford to lose [King] to the whims of murderous maniacs.”

Slate’s Dana Stevens reports that 42, the Jackie Robinson biopic released this weekend, sanitizes Robinson’s life and depicts him as a man who endured racism with a saintly stoicism while controversy raged around him. In real life, Robinson’s writings on civil rights were copious, impassioned, and serious.

Robinson had a long history as a civil rights activist stretching back before his baseball career. Even as a youth, Robinson participated in informal acts of resistance against racism. While serving in the Army during WWII, he fought to be admitted to Officer Candidate School. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. recently wrote for the Root, Robinson was court-martialed in 1944 for his refusal to move to the back of a military bus.

The National Archives contains many other instances of letters from Robinson to national leaders on racism, segregation, and civil rights.


John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, White House Central Name Files, File: Jackie Robinson.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, White House Central Name Files, File: Jackie Robinson.