MONTREAL (AP) - After a spring training in the segregated South, newlywed Rachel Robinson went to look at an apartment in a white neighborhood in Montreal. A French-Canadian woman who spoke English welcomed her to the home.
“She received me so pleasantly,” Jackie Robinson’s widow recalled. “Then she poured tea for me and agreed to rent the apartment to me furnished and she insisted I use her things _ like her linens and her china. It was an extraordinary welcome to Canada.”
The quaint Montreal duplex that served as sanctuary to the Robinsons during the early part of his struggle to break baseball’s racial barrier is being recognized by the U.S. government. That chapter in American civil rights will be celebrated Monday when U.S. diplomats unveil a commemorative plaque at the apartment the couple called home in the summer of 1946.
Not too far from the house, Robinson made history at old Delorimier Stadium, thrilling fans of the minor league Montreal Royals for one season in his final stop before joining the majors the next year with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
His wife remembers the home fondly and considers the residence on de Gaspe Avenue a critical part of their story.
It was in that lower-level duplex apartment on a quiet street that their new marriage blossomed, and Robinson found refuge from the taunts he often endured during road trips.
“You can’t make (enough) of the house because it’s where the experiment started and the experiment went on to be a national success, so it led to something,” Rachel Robinson told The Canadian Press. “What was nourished there in that house … had widespread influence in our society.”
Robinson, now 88, recalls arriving in Montreal after having survived the Jim Crow South during spring training in Florida.
There they were met with racism at every turn: on whites-only flights, in hotels and restaurants and ballparks. In some cities, they were chased out of town.
The couple was twice bumped off airplanes while trying to get to Daytona. When they arrived, Jackie Robinson wasn’t allowed to stay with teammates at their hotel.
The team didn’t have a spring training facility of its own and many opponents wouldn’t allow them into theirs. Robinson was forced to leave one town. In Jacksonville, the stadium was locked on game day.
The couple initially felt some trepidation heading north to postwar Montreal, with its housing shortages. It had never occurred to the Robinsons to look for a black neighborhood in Montreal. The Royals had provided a list of homes _ all in predominantly white areas at a time when the black community made up about 2 percent of Montreal’s population.
Robinson said they were more focused on the professional task than on neighborhood demographics.