EXCLUSIVE: Major League Baseball to replace defaced marker honoring Jackie Robinson

The historical marker recognizing the birthplace of African American baseball great Jackie Robinson was found riddled by gunfire the week of February 14, 2021 in Grady County, Ga. The defacement was one of at least two incidents in the past six months of vandalism to significant markers dedicated to the legacy of Black Georgians. Officials say the fact firearms were used is significant.

Credit: Georgia Historical Society

Combined ShapeCaption
The historical marker recognizing the birthplace of African American baseball great Jackie Robinson was found riddled by gunfire the week of February 14, 2021 in Grady County, Ga. The defacement was one of at least two incidents in the past six months of vandalism to significant markers dedicated to the legacy of Black Georgians. Officials say the fact firearms were used is significant.

Credit: Georgia Historical Society

League also gives $40K endowment for care of new marker.

Six months after vandals defaced a historical marker in south Georgia dedicated to the man who integrated major league baseball, the league is stepping up to protect his legacy.

On Friday the Georgia Historical Society is expected to announce that Major League Baseball is contributing $40,000 to the replacement and maintenance of a historical marker honoring the birthplace of Jackie Robinson outside Cairo. In February, vandals blasted the aluminum sign with what may have been a shotgun, leaving it pocked with holes too deep to repair. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was first to report the vandalism, which occurred during Black History Month.

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Jackie Robinson only played for one season in the Negro League, in 1945 for the Kansas City Monarchs--a total of 47 games plus the East-West All-Star Game for that year. (Library of Congress)

Credit: Library of Congress

Jackie Robinson only played for one season in the Negro League, in 1945 for the Kansas City Monarchs--a total of 47 games plus the East-West All-Star Game for that year. (Library of Congress)

Credit: Library of Congress

Combined ShapeCaption
Jackie Robinson only played for one season in the Negro League, in 1945 for the Kansas City Monarchs--a total of 47 games plus the East-West All-Star Game for that year. (Library of Congress)

Credit: Library of Congress

Credit: Library of Congress

The incident was significant in that of the more than 300 historical markers sponsored by the Georgia Historical Society since 1998, only those relating to Black history have been damaged by gunfire, Todd Groce, president and CEO of the historical society said at the time. The Robinson sign is part of the Georgia Historical Society’s Civil Rights Trail series: 44 markers recognizing significant people, events and places that shaped the state.

Upon learning of the damage, the league began talks with the historical society to come up with a plan to replace the marker. The league would not comment Thursday on whether passage of Georgia’s controversial voting law this spring and the league’s subsequent decision to move its lucrative All-Star game out of metro Atlanta to Denver, Colorado, delayed the announcement about the replacement.

“We are grateful for the ongoing efforts by the Georgia Historical Society to preserve the legacy of one of our sport’s most important figures whose trailblazing accomplishments transcended baseball. Jackie’s impact on our society is still felt today, and Major League Baseball is honored to contribute to maintaining a significant part of Jackie’s history in Cairo in perpetuity,” the league said in a statement Thursday.

The $40,000 endowment will go toward not only replacing the sign, but maintaining it or replacing it again should it be damaged or vandalized in the future, said Stan Deaton, senior historian at the society. The historical society did not give an estimate on how much a new sign would cost, though the heavy gauge aluminum signs cost about $3,000 ten years ago, when others were erected across Georgia. The society is not a state agency, but under an agreement with the state it does maintain historical markers put up by the state prior to the late 1990s. Markers established after 1998 have been paid for in partnership with the society and a sponsoring organization or community group.

“We’re thrilled to be able to put the marker back up,” Deaton said. “This is important for Georgia, for Major League Baseball and for Grady County.”

The marker recognizing Robinson’s birthplace, along Hadley Ferry Road in Cairo, stood relatively unscathed since it was installed in 2001. It tells the story of how Robinson went from the small town in South Georgia and became one of the most celebrated baseball players and civil rights figures in history, going from the Negro Leagues to becoming the first Black player to integrate Major League Baseball.

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970611 - Copy of photo from the Braves Museum at Turner Field ( l to r) of Jackie Robinson with Sam 'Jet' Jethro, the first African-American to play for the Braves, joining the team in 1950. (AJC Staff Photo/Taimy Alvarez)

Credit: TAIMY ALVAREZ

970611 - Copy of photo from the Braves Museum at Turner Field ( l to r) of Jackie Robinson with Sam 'Jet' Jethro, the first African-American to play for the Braves, joining the team in 1950. (AJC Staff Photo/Taimy Alvarez)

Credit: TAIMY ALVAREZ

Combined ShapeCaption
970611 - Copy of photo from the Braves Museum at Turner Field ( l to r) of Jackie Robinson with Sam 'Jet' Jethro, the first African-American to play for the Braves, joining the team in 1950. (AJC Staff Photo/Taimy Alvarez)

Credit: TAIMY ALVAREZ

Credit: TAIMY ALVAREZ

Pellets from the gun blast left deep burrows clustered around several words on the sign including “Negro-American” and “baseball’s color barrier.”

A spokesperson for the Grady County Sheriff’s office said Thursday that since the incident there have been, “no arrests, no leads, no more damage,” to the sign. Deaton said that “we never ascribed motive” to the vandalism.

“We also know that out in the country, it’s not uncommon for things to get shot up, from a stop sign to a marker,” Deaton said.

Yet, he said, the society wants to keep the damaged sign and perhaps display it as yet another chapter in the Robinson story of breaking barriers and the aftermath of his pioneering actions.