Some 57 years ago, two historic African American figures met in the city of Atlanta at a sports event co-sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company. The event was the Annual Sports Jamboree of the “100% Wrong Club”, a unit of the sports department of the Atlanta Daily World newspaper. The historic figures? Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in Major League Baseball, and Mrs. Mary Alexander, the first African American model to appear in Coca-Cola advertising. “That was the highlight of my life”, Mrs. Alexander shared with me a few weeks ago when recounting the experience. “I was modeling for Coke and they asked me if I would come to the [sports program] and I said, ‘Yes! What do I do?’ and they replied, ‘You just go there and meet the people and talk and drink Coke.’ I said ‘fine!’” In addition to meeting Jackie Robinson, she also met Branch Rickey, the general manager who signed Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“I was so excited and so happy to meet both of them. And, I got their autographs!”, she told me while flipping through the program from that night and showing off each signature and the two Coca-Cola ads which appeared in its pages. “I talked to everybody I saw there and I told them I worked for Coca-Cola and we just had a good time!”, she added. In the photo in our Archives released from the event, Wilbur Kurtz, the first Archivist for Coca-Cola, and Coca-Cola special representative Moss Kendrix are pictured with Robinson, Rickey and others. Kurtz delivered a welcome for the occasion, on which Rickey won “The Pioneer Award” and Robinson and teammate Pee Wee Reese took home “The Two Friends Award.” Robinson received the award on behalf of himself and Reese, who was unable to be in Atlanta for the event which was also co-sponsored by the Atlanta Daily World newspaper and Atlanta Life Insurance Company.
Since the movie about Jackie Robinson, “42”, opens in theaters today starring Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, I thought it was appropriate also to share the following video about the lady I affectionately call “Miss Mary”, who is one of my personal heroes!