Learn About Mack Robinson, Olympic Silver Medalist, Community Activist and Jackie’s Older Brother (LISTEN)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

In yesterday’s daily drop we celebrated sports legend Jackie Robinson. But did you know his older brother Mack Robinson had his own claim to sports fame?

Matthew Mackenzie “Mack” Robinson was an outstanding track and field athlete who won the silver medal in the 200-meter event at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, finishing just four tenths of a second behind Jesse Owens.

To read about Robinson, read on. To hear about him, press PLAY:

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Pasadena Robinson Memorial

Hey, this is Lori Lakin Hutcherson, founder and editor in chief of goodblacknews.org, here to share with you a bonus daily drop of Good Black News for Saturday, April 16th, 2022, based on the format of the “A Year of Good Black News Page-A-Day Calendar” published by Workman Publishing.

In yesterday’s daily drop we celebrated some of Jackie Robinson’s greatest achievements in the realm of sports. But did you know his older brother Mack Robinson has his own sports claims to fame as well?

Born in 1914, Matthew Mackenzie “Mack” Robinson was an outstanding track and field athlete who went from competing at Pasadena City College in California to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin after local Pasadena business owners paid his way to the Olympic trials in New York.

With no coaching and worn-down shoes – the same ones he’d used all season to compete with at junior college, Robinson won a silver medal in the 200-meter event, finishing just four tenths of a second behind the gold medal winner from Ohio State University who became world-renowned for his track and field feats in those same Olympics — Jesse Owens.

Mack Robinson with his Silver Medal from the 1936 Olympics

And for Robinson, with all he was up against, was rightfully proud of his achievement, as he explained in a 1985 interview conducted for the educational series, Black Champions:

[Clip of Mack Robinson]

“You know, we had sixty-four individuals that was in the two hundred meters in the very beginning, and they had to be eliminated down to eight.

So when you look at, you’re inside of the eight out of sixty-four, that’s not bad; and you go on down, and you’re number two out of the eight and, which covers the whole world, to me, it’s great.

I have no qualms about finishing second. I’ve enjoyed placing second. My silver medal has a lot of meaning to me, and I believe it has as much meaning in it as the gold.”

After the Olympics, Robinson went on to attend the University of Oregon, where in 1938 he won the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Amateur Athletic Union titles in the 220-yard dash.

Robinson left college soon after to return to Pasadena to work and care of his family. Robinson worked menial jobs for the city, and it’s been reported that he lost his job as a street sweeper when Pasadena fired all of its Black municipal employees in retaliation for a court order demanding it desegregate its public pools.

Though Robinson later went on to work as a Park Director in East Hollywood, he stayed locally active in Pasadena at all times, determined to advocate for the betterment of his community. He regularly went down to City Hall and pushed for playgrounds, YMCAs, swimming pools — anything that would help keep the local youth active and out of trouble.

Robinson also lobbied for better books in the libraries, fought to keep the local parks clean, safe and free of drugs and alcohol, and he organized clothing drives to help the less fortunate in different parts of the country.

Robinson is even reported to have gone after a local liquor store where neighbors were being accosted. He took down a local den of gambling and prostitution, and he also crusaded to get streets, sidewalks and gutters fixed. Robinson was often seen at the Pasadena Board of City Directors meetings, and himself is quoted as saying, “I’m a thorn in their side. I’m a squeaky wheel that gets the grease, but what I’m trying to get is lubricant for a lifetime.”

Robinson eventually got a job working as a truant officer at John Muir High School, the same high school he attended in Pasadena, and also worked in that capacity to help keep youth out of trouble.

In 1981, Mack Robinson was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame and in 1995 he was inducted into the University of Oregon Hall of Fame.

In 1984 Robinson was part of a select group chosen to carry a large Olympic flag in the Opening Ceremonies of the Los Angeles Olympics.

And in 1997, Mack Robinson received one of the best recognitions of all the dedication he put in locally and civically. The memorial created in Pasadena, called the Pasadena Robinson Memorial, not only honored his famous younger brother Jackie for his nationally-renowned achievements, but also honored Mack for his lifetime of activism in the community.

While the 9-foot-tall bust of Jackie faces northeast towards Brooklyn, where he famously integrated Major League Baseball, Mack’s equally tall bust looks directly at Pasadena City Hall.

Mack Robinson passed in the year 2000, and in that same year Pasadena City College, which he attended and which he represented on the track and field, dedicated its stadium to him. And the United States Post Office named its new Pasadena branch the Matthew “Mack” Robinson Post Office Building.

To learn more about Mack Robinson, watch the 2021 CBS Los Angeles feature story about him on YouTube, the 2016 documentary Olympic Pride, American Prejudice which follows the 18 Black athletes who competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and that’s currently streaming on Amazon Video.

You can also watch the 1985 Black Champions interview in its entirety in the Washington University at St. Louis archives site, or listen to the 2016 Hidden History of Los Angeles podcast episode on Robinson.

Links to these sources and more are provided in today’s show notes and the episode’s full transcript posted on goodblacknews.org.

This has been a bonus daily drop of Good Black News, written, produced and hosted by me, Lori Lakin Hutcherson. Beats provided by freebeats.io and produced by White Hot.

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