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By Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY
EDINA, Minn. — David Rabinovitz's law office in downtown Sheboygan, Wis., was vandalized, but it was the message in large block letters scrawled across the window that left him trembling in fear.
"Someone had spray-painted, 'Rabinovitz is bringing niggers to Sheboygan,' " says his only son, Ron.
The year was 1960.
John F. Kennedy was elected president in a narrow victory against Richard M. Nixon.
The first demonstration to protest segregated seating occurred in Greensboro, N.C., prompting sit-ins throughout the South.
The United States launched its first weather satellite.
And Ronnie Rabinovitz, 14, was rudely welcomed to the world of racism.
The motive behind the hate crime was simple. Jackie Robinson, who had received letters of admiration from Rabinovitz's father, was scheduled to spend the night at the family's home during a business trip; he later changed plans.
It didn't matter that Robinson was the former star baseball player for the Brooklyn Dodgers or that he would be inducted into Cooperstown two years later. It didn't matter that Robinson was an American hero, breaking the color barrier April 15, 1947, and becoming a pioneer in the civil rights movement.
Robinson was a black man.
Sheboygan, 60 miles north of Milwaukee, was lily-white.
"I never thought of skin color," Rabinovitz says. "It's just that there weren't any black people in town. There was a lot of bigotry. I remembered when we moved there a boy couldn't play with me anymore because I was Jewish. But kids are kids. It's parents who bring prejudice."
Robinson opened a whole new world for Rabinovitz, developing through letters an intimate friendship that defies the imagination a half-century later.
"It's a story nobody else could tell," says Rabinovitz, 61, who moved to the Minneapolis area in 1966, doing everything from selling children's clothing to being a radio DJ to supervising 125 newspaper routes. He is now a sales representative for a carton company.
"It's a beautiful story between a man and a boy," he says. "I feel like Jackie handed a baton to me to share his life with everyone I can. And I love telling it because of the impact he had on my life and, really, everyone in America. I loved that man. I don't want anyone to ever forget him."
Rabinovitz, who has 18 letters from Robinson, almost all handwritten, and nearly a dozen pictures of the two together, takes a deep breath. Closes his eyes. And unveils an extraordinary piece of his life.
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