For Sharon Robinson, civil rights is the family business. The daughter of baseball great Jackie Robinson—the Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman who broke the color line in the 1940s—is the author of several books about her father, including children's books. She visited Boise as part of a tour for her latest book, The Hero Two Doors Down, a story about what happens when Jackie Robinson moves into 8-year-old Dodgers fan Steven's neighborhood.
You released a new book this January. How did you choose this story?
I grew up with this story of this year when my parents moved into this Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, and how my father and Steve [Satlow] became friends. It's always been a part of my life, but it has all these great moments that I just wanted to share with kids.
What was one of those moments?
I asked Steve, "Can you tell me about a trauma you had? Was it when the Dodgers left Brooklyn?" He said, "It was when my father died." I didn't remember that story, and that's how I got the opening of my book.
Several of your books for young readers deal with the theme of absent fathers.
I was a single parent, and I raised my son without his father—his father was in his life, but he lived across the country. When [his father] would step into his life, how important it was to my son—that certainly played out. I was a nurse midwife, and I've heard that story played over and over.
Why this genre of literature? Why speak to young people?
I love answering their questions and helping them look through both sides of things. I had a school visit with our Breaking Barriers program I do with MLB and Scholastic. The kids had just seen the 42 movie, and one of the questions was, "Why did your father let them bully him?" It was such a great discussion.
How do you feel about how your father has been depicted on screen?
I was never a fan of the 1950 version [The Jackie Robinson Story], and I came to understand that it was released during a time when if you were black and in the movies, you were in a subservient role. I didn't get my father's voice or his behavior in the film. When they were producing 42, my conversation with them was about showing them the importance of his character. This wasn't a meek man who would just take injustice.
Did your father bring his activism home?
After he met Dr. King in 1963—and he discussed all of this at the dinner table—he came home and said, "I've been traveling South, and I want you to find work you love and keep family important, but we need to have a family mission, and that family mission is going to be social justice issues." It did launch a family mission which continues to this day.
There were news reports you had come out against Major League Baseball retiring Roberto Clemente's jersey number, as it had also been your father's number.
I did not come out—that was a misunderstanding. I'm very supportive of anything [having to do with] Roberto Clemente. I was just explaining why the commissioner had taken that stance. I called the Clementes. They get it. They know. I wouldn't deny him any honor whatsoever.
How do you think your father would have responded to current events like those in Ferguson, Mo.?
He'd be out there in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and very vocal on it. He'd be writing a column, talking to people. He'd be a 97-year-old man, but in his heart, that's where he'd be.