From star sprinter to street sweeper, meet Jackie’s forgotten brother Mack Robinson

Michael Eli Dokosi Aug 1, 2020 at 09:00am

August 01, 2020 at 09:00 am | Faces of Black Excellence, History

Michael Eli Dokosi

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

August 01, 2020 at 09:00 am | Faces of Black Excellence, History

Matthew Mackenzie Robinson via Pinterest.com

You know Jackie Robinson, the baseball and civil rights great. You might have however missed the formidable story of his older brother Matthew Mackenzie Robinson, affectionately called Mack Robinson.

Born July 18, 1912, Mack set multiple college track and field records competing for Pasadena Junior College. Even more stellar was that Mack qualified for the American Olympic team as a student from Pasadena Junior College (PJC).

And in the 200 meters dash at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, he finished only four-tenths of a second behind the great Jesse Owens to win the silver medal.

He returned to Pasadena and went on to set several junior college track and field records in the 100 sprint (9.6 seconds), 220 (20.9) and broad jump (25 feet, 5.5 inches), according to records. His brother Jackie later broke his long jump record.

At the University of Oregon where he earned his degree, Mack emerged the NCAA champion in the 220 and the AAU champion in the 200.

Life for the star athlete in track and field was however far from rosy. Being an Olympic medalist and a college graduate meant little being in black skin so Mack became a city street sweeper to earn his keep in Pasadena.  

“If anybody in Pasadena was proud of me, other than my family and close friends, they never showed it. I was totally ignored – the way I was ignored in Berlin – when I got home. The only time I got noticed was when somebody asked me if I’d race against a horse during an assembly at school,” Mack once said.

In the early 1970s, Mack was a park director of Lemon Grove Park, a park in the East Hollywood part of the City of Los Angeles.

He became a youth advocate in schools and a voice against street crime. When the Olympics came to Los Angeles in 1984, Mack was one of the U.S. medalists chosen to bring the Olympic flag into the Memorial Coliseum. That was his greatest moment after years of being ignored by his city and country, according to the New York Times.

Today, Mack and Jackie Robinson both have their bronze busts outside the City Hall in their hometown of Pasadena for their work.

Jack Robinson, Mack Robinson, Pasadena, Sculpture
Pasadena pays tribute to brothers Jackie and Mack Robinson with sculptures at Centennial Square in Pasadena via pixabay.com

In 2000, Pasadena City College named the football field – Robinson Stadium – after both Mack and Jackie, both of whom were PCC alumni.

Mack is also regarded as one of the most distinguished graduates of the University of Oregon and is a member of the University of Oregon Hall of Fame and the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.

Mack died of complications from diabetes and kidney failure on March 12, 2000.

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