During a private screening event for 42, a biopic detailing the life of Jackie Robinson, first lady Michelle Obama Tuesday told an audience of students that watching the depiction of racism in the tale of baseball’s integration was upsetting.
The first lady and President Barack Obama viewed the movie over the weekend, and she said she believes it carries an important message for every American.
“The outright discrimination they encountered at every turn, from the fans in the stadium to the airport receptionist, even from some of his own teammates — you’re left just asking yourselves, ‘How on earth did they live through that?’” she said to the gathering of high school and college students at the White House. “How did they do it? How did they endure the taunts and the bigotry for all of that time?”
The students at the White House screening and workshop are members of programs and charter schools named after the baseball legend. They were invited to a question-and-answer session with Robinson’s widow, Rachel, and lead actors Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford, who plays the role of Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey. Rickey signed Robinson to the team in 1945, and later drafted Puerto Rican legend Roberto Clemente.
Obama acknowledged the progress made since Robinson’s time, but said the battle against racism is still ongoing. The integration of baseball predated the civil rights movement by almost a decade, making Robinson an icon for equality in America.
Obama and her husband are certainly doing their part to continue his legacy, having become the first black couple to occupy the White House.
“There’s work to be done, but things have changed,” she said Tuesday. “Major league baseball is fully integrated. There are no more “Whites Only” signs posted anywhere in this country. Although it still happens, it is far less acceptable for someone to yell out a racial slur while you’re walking down the street. It still happens, but not tolerated. That kind of prejudice is simply just not something that can happen in the light of day today.”
42 will be released nationwide on April 12, three days before the 66th anniversary of Robinson’s debut in the majors.