Dozens of D.C.-area students were invited for a frank conversation about race Tuesday at the White House with Michelle Obama, Harrison Ford, and other members of the cast and crew of "42," the soon-to-be-released film about Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball.
"I know I was mad just watching the movie," the first lady told the 80 students assembled in the State Dining Room, as Robinson's widow Rachel, who is 90, sat behind her. "It would have been easy for them to get mad or to give up. But instead, they [met] hate—they met hatred with decency."
The first lady also said Rachel Robinson "paved the way for me."
"I mean, watching anyone go through what Jackie and Rachel Robinson did‑the outright discrimination they encountered at every turn... And you're left just asking yourselves, how on Earth did they live through that?" Obama said. "How did they endure the taunts and the bigotry for all of that time?"
Robinson told the assembled students, who sat in rapt attention, that her husband had just wanted "a full life, a decent life" when he was joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Robinson went on to play in six World Series, win the Most Valuable Player Award in the National League in 1949, and be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
"But we still have a lot of work to do," Robinson said of race relations in the country today, to which one woman in the audience murmured loudly: "Yes."
When it came time for audience questions, one student asked actor Chadwick Boseman, who plays Jackie Robinson in the film, whether he drew from experiences in his own life to play the character.
"Have I experienced racism? Yes. I'm from the south," said Boseman, who was born in South Carolina. "There's the use of the 'n' word in the film. I've been called that before... and with the same intentions."
"Racism is not dead," he added.
Harrison Ford, who plays the Major League Baseball executive who signed Robinson despite an unwritten rule that prevented black players, also said there was "further yet to go."