Last Thursday, New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams joined other community members in East Flatbush to announce a push to get New York City landmark status for 5224 Tilden Ave.: the house that Jackie Robinson lived in.
Joined by the current owners of the property and by a class of fifth-grade students from nearby P.S. 244, Williams spoke on Robinson’s legacy and what it would mean to the neighborhood for the city to recognize it as a landmark.
“Heroes like Jackie Robinson come from East Flatbush, and we need to treasure and preserve that history,” said Williams. “This house is proof of the rich culture that exists south of Eastern Parkway. Jackie had an impact on the lives of every member of this community through his bravery on and off the field. We must protect that legacy for future generations to learn from and appreciate.”
Robinson lived at the address in East Flatbush from 1947 to 1949. During that time, he won the Rookie of the Year Award and the Most Valuable Player Award while breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Williams believes that achieving city landmark status for the property would help keep the house’s historic, aesthetic and cultural heritage and increase local pride in a neighborhood still reeling from the shooting death of Kimani Gray.
The property already has federal landmark status, but making it a city landmark would help protect the architecture and design of the structure.
The push for landmark status has garnered increased support from such organizations as the Brooklyn Historical Society. A representative of the organization read President Deborah Schwartz’s statement during a news conference in front of the house.
“On behalf of the Brooklyn Historical Society, I applaud all efforts to honor the extraordinary history of Jackie Robinson, whose impact on American history goes far beyond his greatness as a baseball player,” said Schwartz in her statement. “The power of place is one that is undeniable, and I believe 5224 Tilden Avenue, already a National Historic Landmark, deserves recognition by the city of New York as the home of one of America’s great heroes, a man whose courage helped move us all toward racial equality in this country.”
Williams was also joined by the current owners of the house, who are heirs to the family that rented to the Robinsons. Rose Bowman, the oldest living heir, talked to the fifth-graders and the media about the history of the house, the prejudices the Robinsons faced when they integrated into the neighborhood, which was then all white, and memories of the Robinsons’ time there.
“Mr. Robinson and his wife were lovely people,” said Bowman. “They would be out here Sunday morning washing their cars and of course they were Cadillacs. They would crack jokes with each other, and Mr. Robinson was a jovial kind of person. He would tell you jokes and make you split your sides laughing.”
Elected officials who couldn’t make it released statements in support of the landmarking effort.
“Jackie Robinson was a pioneer who overcame the color barrier in Major League Baseball when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers,” said Rep. Yvette D. Clarke. “His contributions to the Civil Rights Movement were extraordinary. He remains a hero to people around the world, especially in Brooklyn, where he also lived.”
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz echoed similar sentiments.
“Anywhere that Jackie Robinson called home in Brooklyn deserves landmark status,” he said. “Jackie Robinson is an American icon and one of Brooklyn’s most important heroes, continuing to set an example for our children today. He may have been known for touching home on the diamond, but now his home can touch the lives of Brooklynites who will always be inspired by his great American story.”
When asked if he expected any blowback or resistance for the landmark campaign, Williams remained confident that time was on his side.
“I don’t expect any push back,” said Williams to the AmNews. “I think this is one of the landmarks that people are gonna line up for from top to bottom. From elected officials to the community to the owners, I think it’s only a matter of time … making sure that the paperwork is in and raising it on the priority list. I think the biggest obstacle is the time it takes to get it done.”