The GOP now claims Jackie Robinson as one of its own. While Jackie Robinson did publicly express support for Governor Nelson Rockefeller and other Republicans, it was not because of party affiliation. This didn't stop another prominent Republican from attempting to present Jackie as the face of a more relevant and tolerant Republican Party.
This was in 1964, as Barry Goldwater campaigned for the Republican Presidential nomination. Jackie was invited to the Republican convention through a special arrangement made by Governor Rockefeller's office. What he saw and experienced there caused him to publicly condemn Goldwater and his party.
Civil Rights was certainly a national topic of discussion in 1964 and Barry Goldwater had the opportunity to define for his party and the world how Conservatism and Civil Rights could co-exist and flourish together. The notion that federal legislation to recognize and protect America's Constitutional guarantees for all of its citizens had no inherent conflict with Conservatism's view of limited government. Even William Buckley later recanted his magazine's early opposition to Civil Rights.
Minorities were scarce in the Republican party of 1964, it would have been important to any national politician interested in expanding the appeal of the party to extend a gesture of civility to interested prominent minority figures. Goldwater had his chance with Jackie Robinson.
Jackie was not a natural early 1960's Republican, or actively involved in politics. He was attracted to the party's message of self-reliance. As a businessman, he had the opportunity to work closely with Nelson Rockefeller on issues of minority representation in the party and found him to be a man of compassion and integrity.
The popularity of Jackie Robinson was not lost on Goldwater.
Jackie wrote -
Apparently, I was one of the preconvention opposition who Senator Goldwater thought he could unify into his campaign. Although I had let it be widely known that I intended to do all I could for LBJ, Candidate Goldwater sent me an invitation early; in August to come to Washington to have breakfast with him. He suggested that I really didn’t know him well enough to condemn him and that he felt we might be able to learn something from each other.Jackie Robinson was ultimately disgusted with what he saw at the 1964 Republican convention, after he was initially attracted to the presidential campaign of the moderate Republican governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller.
Some people will say I should have accepted the invitation. I did not reject it in hasty anger. My instinct simply told me immediately that the only way the Senator could sell me his candidacy was if he repudiated the John Birchers, the dirty campaign tactics of Bill Miller who was his running mate, and some of the basic standards he and his crowd had set. I knew he wasn’t about to do all that simply to get my support.
I resolved that I should not allow myself to get boxed into the image of being a hothead, unwilling, for no good reason, to talk things over. Consequently, I released the text of my reply to the Goldwater invitation to the press. In that letter I told the Senator I was releasing my reply to the national press. The letter said in part:
“You say to me that you are interested in breaking bread with me and discussing your views on civil rights. Senator, on pain of appearing facetious, I must relate to you a rather well-known story regarding the noted musician, Louis Armstrong, who was once asked to explain jazz. “If you have to ask,” Mr. Armstrong replied, “you wouldn’t understand.”
What are you going to tell me, Senator Goldwater, which you cannot or do not choose to tell the country – or which you could not have told the convention which you controlled so rigidly that it booed Nelson Rockefeller, a distinguished fellow-Republican?
What are you going to say about extremism now? You called for it and the answer came in the thudding feet and the crashing store windows and the Molotov cocktails and the crack of police bullets and the clubbing of heads and the hate and the violence and the fear which electrified Harlem and Rochester and Jersey. I am solidly committed to the peaceful, non-violent mass action of the Negro people in pursuit of long-overdue justice. But I am as much opposed to the extremism of Negro rioters and Negro hoodlums as I am to the sheeted Klan, to the sinister Birchers and to the insidious citizens’ Councils.
If, in view of these questions, which I raise in absolute sincerity and conviction, you still think a meeting between us would be fruitful, I am available at your convenience.”
My letter to the Senator did not receive any response from him. It did get a response from many people who read it in the newspapers. The fan mail ran about half and half, with some people giving me a hard time for not accepting Senator Goldwater’s invitation and other declaring that I told him off.
--from "I Never Had It Made" by Jackie Robinson-------
Jackie did sense that Goldwater was not sincere about inclusiveness, a color-blind meritocracy, the separation of politics and religion, and the primacy of ideas over ideologies.
I was not as sold on the Republican party [as I was on Governor Rockefeller]... . Every chance I got, while I was campaigning, I said plainly what I thought of the right-wing Republicans and the harm they were doing. I felt the GOP was a minority party in term of numbers of registered voters and could not win unless they updated their social philosophy and sponsored candidates and principles to attract the young, the black, and the independent voter. I said this often from public, and frequently Republican, platforms. By and large Republicans had ignored blacks and sometimes handpicked a few servile leaders in the black community to be their token "niggers". How would I sound trying to go all out to sell Republicans to black people? They're not buying. They know better.Jackie Robinson's opinion of Goldwater was galvanized by his experiences at the 1964 convention. Robinson by rights was someone that Conservative Republicans, true to their principles, should have embraced wholeheartedly. He had fought his way to the top of his profession in spite of formidable obstacles. After retirement from baseball, he was a successful businessman and the embodiment of American opportunity. Goldwater would have had a natural ally in Jackie as well as a powerful symbol of self-promotion and entrepeneurialism.
I admit freely that I think, live, and breathe black first and foremost. That is one of the reasons I was so committed to the governor and so opposed to Senator Barry Goldwater. Early in 1964 I wrote a Speaking Out piece for The Saturday Evening Post. A Barry Goldwater victory would insure that the GOP would be completely the white man's party. What happened at San Francisco when Senator Goldwater became the Republican standard-bearer confirmed my prediction.
That convention was one of the most unforgettable and frightening experiences of my life.
A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP. As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.
The same high-handed methods had been there.
The same belief in the superiority of one religious or racial group over another was here. Liberals who fought so hard and so vainly were afraid not only of what would happen to the GOP but of what would happen to America. The Goldwaterites were afraid – afraid not to hew strictly to the line they had been spoon-fed, afraid to listen to logic and reason if it was not in their script.
It was a terrible hour for the relatively few black delegates who were present. Distinguished in their communities, identified with the cause of Republicanism, an extremely unpopular cause among blacks, they had been served notice that the party they had fought for considered them just another bunch of “niggers”. They had no real standing in the convention, no clout. They were unimportant and ignored.
One bigot from one of the Deep South states actually threw acid on a black delegate’s suit jacket and burned it. Another one, from the Alabama delegation where I was standing at the time of the Rockefeller speech, turned on me menacingly while I was shouting “C’mon Rocky” as the governor stood his ground. He started up in his seat as if to come after me. His wife grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Turn him loose, lady, turn him loose,” I shouted.
I was ready for him. I wanted him badly, but luckily for him he obeyed his wife.
I had been very active on that convention floor. I was one of those trying to help bring about a united front among the black delegates in the hope of thwarting the Goldwater drive. George Parker had courageously challenged Goldwater in vain and Edward Brooke had lent his uncompromising sincerity to the convention. I sat in with them after the nomination as they agonized about what they should do. Some were for walking out of the convention and even out of the party. Others felt that, as gloomy as things looked, the wisest idea was to remain within the party and fight.
Throughout the convention, I had been interviewed several times on network television. When I was asked my opinion of Barry Goldwater, I gave it. I said I thought he was a bigot. I added that he was not as important as the forces behind him. I was genuinely concerned, for instance, about Republican National Committee Chairman William Miller, slated to become the Vice Presidential candidate. Bill Miller could have become the Agnew of his day if he had been elected. He was a man who apparently believed you never said a decent thing in political campaigning if you could think of a way to be nasty, insinuating, and abrasive.
What with the columns I had written about Goldwater, The Saturday Evening Post article, and the television and radio interview, I had achieved a great deal of publicity about the way I felt about Goldwater.
---from "I Never Had It Made" by Jackie Robinson-------
Jackie Robinson had recognized the party's hypocrisy in spite of the Conservative movement's professed love for the merits of knowledge, the inherent value of the individual, and the Constitutional principle of equality.
How little has changed.