NY Times asks for help with “A Jackie Robinson Mystery.” Well, Eugene Kramer was there. (Almost)

NY Times asks for help with “A Jackie Robinson Mystery.” Well, Eugene Kramer was there. (Almost)

Feb. 14, 1949, Jackie Robinson speaks to the Sociology Society at City College in New York. (The New York Times, 2/2/16)

Today, The New York Times, which has recently discovered a trove of unpublished photos related to African-American history, has asked its readers for more information. In this case, A Jackie Robinson Mystery about one of Jackie Robinson’s visits in 1949 to the City College of New York.  (Below)


Eugene Kramer’s 80th Birthday gift

Just happens one of the newspapers’ loyal subscribers, Eugene Kramer, was there. Almost.

(You’ve read about Eugene in On Yogi Berra and Dale Berra and the 1973 World Series and Willie Mays. And my father. )

Last April, my father had a stroke and his memory is not as keen as it once was. (Eugene is deeply appreciative of all his friends’ well wishes in his recovery.)

But he does remember meeting Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella coming to CCNY for a casual visit with students sometime also in 1949.  At the time, Eugene was a 20 year old student (receiving a B.A. from CCNY and later an M.A. in Political Science at the University of Chicago).

Somewhat surprised and very pleased, Eugene talked with both for a few minutes. A die-hard Dodger fan (see Yogi Berra article), Eugene was thrilled to meet two of his heroes and welcome them to campus.


Roy Campanella (left) and Jackie Robinson

Unfortunately, Eugene is pretty sure he was not at the February 14th talk. Just in case, we took out a magnifying glass and looked at a fellow in the third row, second from the left, next to a man in black with his hand on his chin.

No luck. My mother said she married Eugene not that much later, and would have recognized him even almost 70 years later.

Below is a picture of Eugene in 1947 with another of his heroes, Louis Armstrong. But more on that picture (and when Eugene knew Armstrong) soon.


It was 1949, the year Jackie Robinson would bat .342 for the Brooklyn Dodgers and receive the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award, just 31 months after becoming the first black player in the major leagues.

But on Feb. 14, before the season started, before the crowds poured into Ebbets Field, Mr. Robinson spoke to the Sociology Society at City College in New York.

We’re trying to figure out why.

This photograph, unpublished until now, documents the moment, with the students leaning forward to hear him speak. But what was he discussing? The photo caption offers only a hint, saying that Mr. Robinson was speaking about “his work with Harlem boys’ groups.”


Eugene Kramer (first row, last, rear) Matt Gabler (1947), founder of the famous Commodore Music Shop at 136 East 42 Street greets Louie at an autographing session on behalf of Robert Griffin’s “Horns of Plenty.” Arrayed around Armstrong and Gabler are members of the store’s staff, including Jack Crystal, Billy Crystal’s father


“Best Wishes to Eugene, Louis Armstrong”

We know that Mr. Robinson coached children at the YMCA in Harlem a year earlier, to help, as he put it, “keep them off the streets.” And it is easy to imagine how his successes and struggles would have resonated with African-American boys and teenagers at a time when racial discrimination was rife. “I had to fight hard against loneliness, abuse and the knowledge that any mistake I made would be magnified because I was the only black man out there,” Mr. Robinson wrote in his memoir, “I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson,” describing those early years with the Dodgers.

But The New York Times didn’t publish an article about the ballplayer’s visit to City College that day.

Now we’re turning to you for help.

Were you there? Do you recognize your face in the crowd of students? Do you recognize someone you know or knew? Do you remember the discussion, or did you hear about it later? Were you or someone you knew coached by Mr. Robinson at the YMCA at 180 West 135th Street?

Please share your story with us. If and when we have answers, we’ll let you know what we have discovered.

POSTSCRIPT: Looks like the Times‘ readers solved the mystery. Cool that Jackie was playing pool with Roy as Eugene met them on campus.jackie answer

65 years ago today at Edgerton Park Arena when the NBA color line was first broken. And Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Rochester; summer of ’46


Street & Smith’s now defunct. Here is Kramer & Kramer’s Official 2016 Yearbook


About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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