In a scene in "42," Jackie Robinson gazes at his newborn son in a hospital ward and vows never to be like his father.
"My daddy left us flat in Cairo, Georgia. I was only six months older than you are now."
That's the only mention of Cairo in the newly released biopic about the man who broke baseball's color barrier, but the movie resonates in this small southwest Georgia city that has had a complicated relationship with its famous native son.
The movie, many in Cairo hope, will shine a new light on the city and help bring Robinson the kind of recognition he deserved here long ago.
In the film, Robinson -- played by Chadwick Boseman -- pronounced the city like Cairo, Egypt, the Georgia city's namesake. Only here, folks don't say it like that. It's KAY-row.
Most here seem willing to forgive that Hollywood faux-pas since Robinson himself might have mispronounced it. After all, he was only a toddler when he left Cairo for good.
After his father, Jerry, abandoned the family, his mother, Mallie, found herself doing the work of two people on the Sasser Plantation. A short while later, Mallie boarded the Number 58 train with her five children and moved across the continent to be closer to her brother in Pasadena, California -- an act of enormous courage for a black woman in the early 1920s.
Robinson, the son of sharecroppers and grandson of slaves, never walked the streets of Cairo. Not like Olympic gold medalist Teresa Edwards, who shot hoops on the courts at Holder Park.
It's one reason, say some residents, that the city has struggled to embrace Robinson.
Others suspect race had a lot to do with it. This was the Deep South, and Cairo was not unlike other places that struggled to reconcile with the past -- one that was so ugly that Robinson probably never would have made a career in baseball had he grown up here.
Had he stayed, he might have ended up a sharecropper himself. Instead, he grew up in a world far away from Jim Crow, attending integrated schools in California and becoming a star athlete at UCLA.
Schools weren't integrated in Cairo until 1970. When there was a proposal to rename Second Avenue in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., there was push-back, recalls attorney Tom Lehman, 67, who moved here four decades ago from Ohio.
The local newspaper, The Cairo Messenger, recognized Robinson on the 30th anniversary of his entry into the major leagues in a short story that reminded readers he was born in Cairo. But other than that, the memory of Jackie Robinson wore thin.
For decades, there were no monuments or placards or anything, really, that signaled the city was the birthplace of an extraordinary man. You could drive through town without knowing Robinson was ever here.
A woman on a mission
Linda Walden wanted to fix that.
She grew up in Queens, New York, and Sebring, Florida, but after she finished medical school at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, she moved south to Cairo.
It's a city best known as once being the capital of cane syrup production. The high school mascot is a syrupmaker.
Walden's roots were here; her father's family owned land nestled along tree-lined country roads.
She arrived in 1996, one year before the 50th anniversary of Robinson's feat. Jackie was family.
Walden's aunt had married Jackie's brother, Mack Robinson, who'd also made his mark in the world of sports. He won a silver medal in the 200-meter dash in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, but was overshadowed by Jesse Owens and later by his own pioneering brother.
It felt right for Walden to settle in Cairo, though it was a shock.
"It was like going back 30 years in time," she said.
When she opened her medical practice in a shopping center on MLK Jr. Avenue, she became the first woman and the first African-American to do so. Even today, she's still the only full-time black doctor in the area.
"I had to remind some of my patients that it was not Miss Linda but Dr. Walden," she said.
Soon after she established her practice, someone planted a sign on her property calling her the N-word.
She received a phone call asking for a donation of $1,000 to the fire department. She politely told them she couldn't make such a large donation.
All she heard on the other end was the N-word.
"God bless you," she replied, holding her anger. Maybe it was something Robinson inspired in her. It was his courage to not fight back when he was met with hatred that helped him win over a racist mindset, as the movie shows.
About a month later, Walden got a letter of apology in the mail.
"We have good people here -- both black and white," she said. "But change has been very slow."
Walden, 56, made it her mission to preserve Robinson's legacy in Cairo. To resurrect his name. To inspire a new generation of kids. In 1997, she founded the Jackie Robinson Cairo Memorial Institute to raise money for her mission. She eventually started a Jackie Robinson essay contest for Cairo students.
The same year, she succeeded in getting the county to rename a 10-mile stretch of Georgia Highway 93 as the Jackie Robinson Memorial Highway. She launched a campaign to have the Georgia Historical Society place a marker at the site of the 150-year-old tin-roofed wooden house on Hadley Ferry Road where Robinson was born. In 2002, Walden got a sign placed, but by then the house had burned down and all that was left was a brick chimney.
She proposed the county erect a monument of Robinson in front of the Grady County Courthouse in downtown Cairo. She even sought out a sculptor from Tallahassee -- just across the Florida state line -- who presented the county commission with a life-size cardboard depiction of how the bronze statue might look. She felt a statue would serve as a landmark for Cairo and help draw tourists.
But that didn't happen.
Lehman, the attorney, said it might have been a matter of money. Walden said she was told the land outside the courthouse was not appropriate for memorials to athletes. There's a memorial to veterans of foreign wars. After Walden's request went nowhere, the county erected a stone monument honoring the Sons of the Confederacy. A small rebel flag flutters at its side.
"I wanted it to be a tourist attraction," Walden said. "They saw it as a black man on the courthouse lawn.
"When I first started, there were more excuses than anything else. They said, 'Why are we honoring someone who didn't grow up here?' It was stunning that someone as great as Jackie Robinson would be treated this way."
But Walden was determined. It didn't matter to her that Robinson didn't grow up in Cairo. It's been said he only returned once, after he'd made it as a Brooklyn Dodger. The black people in town threw him a parade.
Walden refused to stop dreaming. She envisioned a multimillion-dollar multicultural center and museum named after Robinson. She even thought about constructing a baseball field good enough to bring spring training to Cairo.