from the Mar/Apr 1999 PCC Colleague
Ray Bartlett: Less-Heralded '39 Alumnus Treasures Ties With PCC, Jackie Robinson
Sixty-one years ago, Ray Bartlett roamed the football gridiron for Pasadena junior College, along with his friend and teammate, Jackie Robinson. The pair led PJC to a national championship.
One went on to become a household name whose actions and accomplishments helped break the color barrier for African Americans in professional sports. Jackie Robinson, of course, was an American hero of the 20th century, The other, Bartlett, has led a less-heralded, but certainly extraordinary life that includes a career in the U.S. military and community service for the City of Pasadena and Los Angeles County.
Robinson had his day in the sun as a Major League Rookie of the Year for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. This past January, the 79-year-old Bartlett enjoyed a special day as he represented Robinson as a Grand Marshall of the 11Oth Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.
Bartlett's proudest memories occurred 60 years apart. "In sports, I was most proud of being named a JC All-American end at Pasadena junior College in 1939, " Bartlett said. "But my greatest moment was serving as a Grand Marshall of the Rose Parade on New Year's Day, That was so special and fantastic. What an honor to be able to represent my friend, and to do so while riding down the streets of my hometown."
Bartlett was touched by the honor, and knew he had the late Robinson's wife, Rachel, to thank. "The Tournament committee wanted a former pro baseball player to represent Jackie. Even Henry Aaron was mentioned. But Rachel told them, why not Ray? I grew up with him in Pasadena; we went to junior college and to UCLA together. We were two of just a few players to play all four of the big sports (football, basketball, baseball, and track) together. And I think Rachel was thanking me, since I was the one who first introduced Jackie to Rachel when we were all attending UCLA."
Robinson and Bartlett both received playing scholarships to UCLA after leading Pasadena to an undefeated 1938 season under head coach Tom Mallory. Bartlett recalls that things almost became racially charged because of the mixture of new teammates at PJC that season.
"Coach Mallory came straight from a coaching job in Oklahoma, and he brought with him several players. Playing football in Southern California, we grew up playing side-by-side with white players. There were four of us [blacks], including Jackie, myself, Jim Wright, and Larry Pickens.
"The Oklahoma players were just not used to seeing blacks playing on the same field. At practices, some of the players refused to give an effort to block for Jackie, who was our top running back. One day, Dick Sieber, an Oklahoma guy, saw Jackie just speed down the field behind his block. He said, 'You sure can carry that ball!' I think that broke the ice, and we really started to come together as a team at that point."
Bartlett was one of the few African-American athletes who participated in the pole vault in track and field. He jumped as high as 13 feet - 6 inches with a bamboo pole. Bartlett played the guard position in basketball, and was a first baseman-catcher in baseball. In 1986, he was elected to the California Community College Sports Hall of Fame. Robinson had been elected as the Hall's first inductee in 1984.
In 1941, the two friends had gone to Honolulu to play for a semipro football team. At the end of the season, Robinson decided to return to California. Bartlett stayed to continue working for a construction company, but two days later, life forever changed for Bartlett .
On December 7, he was about 25 miles away from Pearl Harbor when the Japanese began bombing the island of Oahu. "I saw a plane flying low above where I was sleeping. When I looked up I saw a red dot on the plane. I didn't know it was a Japanese fighter until later. I turned on the radio and they were announcing that entire island was under attack.
"Many of us from the construction company were brought to Pearl Harbor the next morning to participate in cleaning up details. We had to retrieve the bodies of dead American navy men from the water. I still remember the terrible sight of the bodies bobbing in the water. I saw the U.S.S. Arizona burning in flames for days after the bombing. "
It would be a year before he was able to return to the States. He graduated from UCLA with I BA. degree in psychology before being drafted into the army in 1944. Bartlett became a first sergeant for an all-African American unit (the military stayed segregated until after World War II). He served in Europe and later was sent on a 42-day journey by ship from France to the Philippines and the Pacific theater.
"We thought we were going to get a 90 day furlough in the States," Bartlett said. "Instead, we went right from France, through the Panama Canal, and straight to the Philippine Islands. That was a tough experience for all the men. We never knew if we'd get back to the States."
Following the war, Bartlett returned to Pasadena and embarked on a 20-year career -is a policeman for the Pasadena City Police Department. He eventually became a detective in burglary, but not before being "passed over for promotion eight times" by his superiors "because of prejudice" in the Department.
After leaving the police force, he later worked for six years as a deputy supervisor for L.A. County Supervisor Warren Dorn. He also spent four years as a public information officer for the L.A. County Fire Department.
Despite his own accomplishments, Bartlett thinks fondly of his days playing side-by-side with Robinson. "I really think Jackie was the greatest athlete in the world. He played so well at so many sports. What I admire most was that Jackie liked to winning at everything. He played hard in practice and at games. He also worked for civil rights, well before Martin Luther King made it prominent."
Bartlett keeps his link to Jackie (who passed away in 1972) by participating on the UCLA Jackie Robinson Scholarship Committee. He also does speaking engagements at local schools and for private groups.
While Jackie Robinson is the name that is commonly linked with Pasadena City College sports, the college can also be proud, in its 75th anniversary year, of the alumnus named Ray Bartlett.
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