Mack and Jackie: Pasadenaâ€™s Twin Heroes
By Dr. Conrad W. Worrill
Recently my father, Walter Worrill, sent me an article from the October 8, 2009 issue of the Los Angeles Times. The article focused on the debate of the naming of the $24-million sports complex on Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena, California.
First, I have to acknowledge that I was born in Pasadena, California on August 15, 1941 in the Huntington Hospital to the parents of Walter and Anna Bell Worrill (my mother made her transition two years ago). My father’s family, along with the Robinson family, unknown to each of these families at the time, migrated from Georgia to Pasadena. Immediately, at the age of thirteen or shortly during his early teen years, my father and later my mother met the Robinson brothers and the entire family. Of course, as you may be aware, there were very small numbers of African American families in Pasadena at that time and as a result, it fostered intimate interactions between those few African American families who lived in Pasadena.
I provide this background because my father, who is now 95 years old, moved back to Pasadena, his home town, to be around our numerous family members who still reside in Pasadena and southern California. My father went to junior high, high school, and junior college with Mack Robinson and intimately observed the development of Mack’s younger brother Jackie as a young man in Pasadena. Because of the work of my father, who began his career in the Pasadena YMCA working as a part time staff member and later after graduating from Whittier College, became a staff member of the 28th Street Branch YMCA in Los Angeles from 1942-44, during the War years, before returning to the Pasadena YMCA staff from 1944-50.
In 1950, our family moved to Chicago where my father took an assignment with the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. He spent twenty-one-years with the Chicago YMCA in a variety of assignments. From 1971, until his retirement in 1980, he served as the Executive Director of the Mid Atlantic Region of the National Council of the YMCA based in New Jersey. Throughout all of this my father maintained his ties to Pasadena and particularly with his childhood friends Mack Robinson and Mr. Ray Bartlet. Our family always kept a deep connection to Pasadena. We kept abreast of all of the events and developments of the city, particularly as it related to the African American community.
As a young boy my father repeatedly shared stories with me and other family members of the great athletic accomplishments of Mack and Jackie Robinson. It’s as though I can repeat all of these stories verbatim. When I would listen to my father, who was on the winning 1934 State Championship Track Team with Mack Robinson, Brainard Worrill, Joe Cunningham, and William Sangster, I would sometimes get chills to my soul. I would get excited when my father would talk about Mack making the United States Olympic Track Team in 1936 and winning a silver medal behind the great Jesse Owens in Berlin. I even have a copy of the telegram my father sent Mack congratulating him on his accomplishment. I also have a copy of Mack’s response acknowledging receipt of my father’s letter and how humbled he was to place second to the great Jesse Owens.
Many people forget that Mack went on to the University of Oregon where he won the NCAA 220 and the AAU 200 meters in 1937. He was considered a world class 200 meter runner during this era. We must not forget that Mack’s accomplishments occurred during the period of the Great Depression.
Mack’s younger brother, Jackie, became a great all around athlete at Pasadena Junior College and later at UCLA. It is not often mentioned that Jackie, as a younger brother, was inspired to become the great athlete that he was because of the inspiration he received from the accomplishments of his big brother Mack. So when people argue in Pasadena that the park should be named for only one brother, Jackie, who emerged in a different era, breaking the color barrier in major league baseball, being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, it should not overshadow the historical reality of the twinness of the athletic accomplishments of the Robinson Brothers to the city of Pasadena, California. Without Mack achieving as he did their most probably would have been no opportunity for Jackie to be as inspired as he was to accomplish his great athletic feats. Because of Mack, Jackie was exposed to the possibility of achieving greatness.
I think that it is fitting to remember that in the dedication of the Pasadena Robinson Memorial it stated the following:
“The Robinson brothers’ abilities, self-confidence and determination set the stage for others to overcome barriers. Both men led complex lives, contributing in different ways to their communities, serving as role models and working tirelessly for civil justice. The bronze sculptures tell these stories and more with descriptive text and images inscribed on the backs and sides of their heads, highlighting the brothers’ multifaceted lives.”
I think the City of Pasadena should be reminded of these words that provided the rational of the twinness of the Robinson Brothers to be remembered in the busts of the sculptures for all to see. These words should also be the foundation of the rational in naming the sports complex in their honor. You cannot separate Mack from Jackie nor Jackie from Mack. They were both uniquely gifted and outstanding athletes who contributed immensely in their chosen arenas. These athletic pursuits were made in different eras and under different circumstances in time and space.
I have had some unique experiences with the Robinson Brothers. I remember when my father was the Executive Director of the famous Wabash YMCA in Chicago in the early 1950s. He invited Jackie to speak at a banquet at the Y. I was able to interact with Mr. Robinson in my father’s office after he concluded his participation in the banquet. I was thrilled to no end. I remember his leaving tickets at Wrigley Field and my father and I attending our first major league baseball game. This man we knew from Pasadena.
I can also remember when Mack drove from Pasadena to Chicago, stayed at my house, and our attending the funeral of the late Jesse Owens together. Mack Robinson was like a godfather to me. This man we knew from Pasadena.
As a Professor of Education and History and Director of the Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies of Northeastern Illinois University, as part of my work, I strive to preserve the contributions of African and African American people for the world. This work has led me to become a very passionate advocate of the truth concerning our people and I have written some of these truths in hundreds and hundreds of articles that have appeared in numerous newspapers throughout the United States. It is in this spirit that I am humbled to write these words in this column to uplift the spirit of two brothers, Mack and Jackie, whom I feel should be honored forever and ever, in Pasadena most especially, for the “Twinness” of their accomplishments. We should not separate them from themselves. In this regard, I reiterate my support, for whatever it means, of the naming of the sports complex on Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena, California in honor of Mack and Jackie, the Robinson Brothers.
Dr. Conrad Worrill is National Chairman Emeritus, National Black United Front (NBUF) located at 1809 East 71st Street, Suite 211, Chicago, Illinois, 60649, 773-493-0900, Fax# 773-493-9819, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web site: nbufront.org.Â