Robinson was particularly active when he retired after the 1956 season. He endorsed Richard Nixon for president in 1960 but later soured on the Republican Party’s approach to civil rights. He agreed with the sentiments of Martin Luther King but was at odds with how to achieve equality for African-Americans.
Robinson spoke to many groups about race, but a Feb. 24, 1969, talk he gave at a New Jersey Bank and Trust Company’s “Challenge of the Seventies” speaker series prompted an interesting exchange of letters.
A typewritten letter to Robinson challenging his comparison between Holocaust deaths and the fatalities of slaves through the years, and Jackie’s two-page, handwritten reply, is part of the Al Tapper Collection in SCP Auctions’ upcoming catalog sale. Authenticated by PSA, it’s expected to sell for $125,000 or more. Tapper’s collection is a treasure trove of memorabilia that includes rosary beads that belonged to Knute Rockne, the original home plate used at old Yankee Stadium and the cap worn by Bobby Thomson when he hit “The Shot Heard ’Round the World” in the 1951 National League playoffs at New York’s Polo Grounds.
The collection also features personal letters written by Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
But it was a typewritten letter from Milton Sacks of Clifton, New Jersey, that provides an interesting exchange of ideas.
The News of Paterson, in its Feb. 26, 1969, coverage of Robinson’s speech, quotes Jackie telling the audience at the Teamster’s Auditorium that Blacks “have suffered very badly.”
“Don’t expect us to be overly grateful or patient when we are freed,” Robinson said.
The reporter for the News added that Robinson “reminded the audience of the mass murder of Jews during World War II, but said that during the slave trading years, an estimated 140 million blacks were killed. That figure was the population of the United States in 1945,” he said. That’s something to think about.”
Sacks wrote to Robinson in a four-paragraph note that was dated Feb. 28, 1969.
“Being a Jew, I am naturally very sensitive when an attempted genocide which resulted in over 6,000,000 Jews being exterminated in a short period of time is treated very lightly and made to seem insignificant as compared to ‘140,000,000 Blacks,’” Sacks wrote. “When questioned as to the accuracy of the 140,000,000 you seemed to evade the issue by quoting ‘our research department, which I am sure is accurate in its statistics.’”
Sacks wanted to know the source of Robinson’s research, adding that, “I am sure that I can rely on your sense of fair play as a sportsman and responsible public figure to provide me with the information requested.”
Challenge made. Challenge accepted.
Robinson mailed a handwritten letter to Sacks, using a 6-cent stamp. The front of the envelope notes that there was 6 cents postage due on the envelope, which is amusing.
Robinson’s letter, written on his personal stationery, thanks Sacks for his response but then quickly adds his two cents.
“I was surprised by your sensitivity. How can you say 6,000,000 murdered Jews seemed insignificant regardless of the number of slaves killed,” Robinson writes. “What difference does a number make, one would have been too many and it seems to me you are overly sensitive and it does surprise me.
“I resent your inference and usually say to ‘hell’ with individuals who feel as you do about the fact a (sic) 140,000,000 blacks were killed.”
Robinson assures Sacks that he will get the information requested and will tell him personally, “If you will call me in a week,” as the Hall of Famer was going to be out of town on business until then.
It is an extraordinary letter, and Robinson is combative. From a writing standpoint, he is coming into second base ready to break up the double play.
“I don’t understand you but I guess you have your reasons,” Robinson writes. “(But) as a Black man, 6,000,000 Jews killed disturb me as well as the number of slaves killed.”
Robinson ends the letter by observing that even if when he supplies Sacks with the source of his information, he doubts that it will be believed.
“I don’t go around making statements for the sake of making noises,” Robinson concludes. “Nor to please people.”
The letter ends, “Sincerely,” with Robinson’s full signature.
It is not known whether Sacks ever followed up and called Robinson back, but the New Jersey native was combative in his own right and appeared prepared to stand his ground at second base for a hard-sliding opponent.
Robinson’s history is well-documented. But who was Milton Sacks?
Sacks lived in New Jersey for most of his life. He was born May 23, 1911, in Jersey City. He was the son of Jacob Sacks and Lillian Weiner Sacks, and his grandfather, Samuel Sakowsky, came to the United States in 1865 as an 18-year-old, working in the U.S. as a coat presser. His grandmother, Sarah Dubinsky, came to the United States from the Congress Kingdom of Poland, which was ruled by Russia.
His maternal grandparents, Jacob Weiner and Rosa Goldberger Weiner, hailed from Hungary in what was then part of the Austria-Hungary empire.
Milton Sacks was a businessman and co-owner of Webster Garage in Jersey City for 50 years until his retirement in 1981.
He was married on Sept. 8, 1939, in New York City to Dorothy Muriel Perkel. Dorothy Sacks taught math at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Clifton.
Milton Sacks served as a member of the Clifton Jewish Center and later as a member of the organization’s board of directors. In 1979 he was named general chairman of the Jewish National Fund of Clifton-Passaic and vicinity. The group raised funds for lands that could support up to 15 families in Hatzeva, Israel. In 1970, Sacks traveled to Jerusalem as part of an Israel Bond tour.
Sacks, by the way, was never shy about expressing his opinions in writing. He took the editorial staff of The Bergen Record to task in a Sept. 19, 1982 letter that expressed displeasure with an editorial cartoon for the “misuse of the Star of David.”
So, a letter to Robinson was certainly not out of character.
After retirement, Milton and Dorothy Sacks moved to Delray Beach, Florida, in 1988. Milton Sacks died at a Boynton Beach hospital on March 12, 1996. He was 84. Dorothy Sacks died at the age of 92 on Oct. 3, 2008.
The letters Sacks and Robinson exchanged stand as an interesting look at history and race. Both men had strong convictions and were not afraid to express them.
The SCP Auction lot contains both letters and mailing envelopes. Robinson’s letter is written in bright blue pen ink, and his signature is distinctive.
The auction begins March 17 and runs through April 3 at SCPAuctions.com.