Jackie Robinson - History

Jackie Robinson - History

Jackie Robinson

1919- 1972

American Athlete

Jackie Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo Georgia. He started playing sports in high school.

The 1947 debut of Jackie Robinson with the old Brooklyn Dodgers marked the beginning of a new era in baseball and perhaps the most significant event in US sporting history: the end of the color barrier in major league ball. Though Robinson was hardly a rookie -- he had been a star of the Negro Leagues -- his was a new face for fans and players unused to black players.

Despite an often viciously racist reception, Robinson keep his cool, played spectacular ball and won Rookie of the Year honors that year.

In 1949, he was named Most Valuable Player and was ultimately elected to the Hall of Fame. Over his 10-year Major League Baseball career, Robinson hit .311.

11 Things You May Not Know About Jackie Robinson

During Jackie Robinson’s youth in California, his older brother Mack was a star sprinter on the Pasadena Junior College track team. Despite struggling with a heart condition, Mack Robinson later clinched a spot on the U.S. Olympic team and finished second to Jesse Owens in the 200-meter race at the 1936 games in Berlin. After returning to Pasadena, Mack went on to set several junior college track and field records. Jackie later broke his brother’s long jump record, and may have had his sights set on his own Olympic glory before the 1940 games were cancelled because of World War II.


Family and personal life

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, into a family of sharecroppers in Cairo, Georgia. He was the youngest of five children born to Mallie (McGriff) and Jerry Robinson, after siblings Edgar, Frank, Matthew (nicknamed "Mack"), and Willa Mae. [9] [10] [11] His middle name was in honor of former President Theodore Roosevelt, who died 25 days before Robinson was born. [12] [13] After Robinson's father left the family in 1920, they moved to Pasadena, California. [14] [15] [16]

The extended Robinson family established itself on a residential plot containing two small houses at 121 Pepper Street in Pasadena. Robinson's mother worked various odd jobs to support the family. [17] Growing up in relative poverty in an otherwise affluent community, Robinson and his minority friends were excluded from many recreational opportunities. [18] As a result, Robinson joined a neighborhood gang, but his friend Carl Anderson persuaded him to abandon it. [18] [19] [20]

John Muir High School

In 1935, Robinson graduated from Washington Junior High School and enrolled at John Muir High School (Muir Tech). [21] Recognizing his athletic talents, Robinson's older brothers Mack (himself an accomplished athlete and silver medalist at the 1936 Summer Olympics) [20] and Frank inspired Jackie to pursue his interest in sports. [22] [23]

At Muir Tech, Robinson played several sports at the varsity level and lettered in four of them: football, basketball, track, and baseball. [16] He played shortstop and catcher on the baseball team, quarterback on the football team, and guard on the basketball team. With the track and field squad, he won awards in the broad jump. He was also a member of the tennis team. [24]

In 1936, Robinson won the junior boys singles championship in the annual Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament and earned a place on the Pomona annual baseball tournament all-star team, which included future Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bob Lemon. [25] In late January 1937, the Pasadena Star-News newspaper reported that Robinson "for two years has been the outstanding athlete at Muir, starring in football, basketball, track, baseball and tennis." [26]

Pasadena Junior College

After Muir, Robinson attended Pasadena Junior College (PJC), where he continued his athletic career by participating in basketball, football, baseball, and track. [27] On the football team, he played quarterback and safety. He was a shortstop and leadoff hitter for the baseball team, and he broke school broad-jump records held by his brother Mack. [16] As at Muir High School, most of Jackie's teammates were white. [25] While playing football at PJC, Robinson suffered a fractured ankle, complications from which would eventually delay his deployment status while in the military. [28] [29] In 1938, he was elected to the All-Southland Junior College Team for baseball and selected as the region's Most Valuable Player. [23] [30]

That year, Robinson was one of 10 students named to the school's Order of the Mast and Dagger (Omicron Mu Delta), awarded to students performing "outstanding service to the school and whose scholastic and citizenship record is worthy of recognition." [31] Also while at PJC, he was elected to the Lancers, a student-run police organization responsible for patrolling various school activities. [32]

An incident at PJC illustrated Robinson's impatience with authority figures he perceived as racist—a character trait that would resurface repeatedly in his life. On January 25, 1938, he was arrested after vocally disputing the detention of a black friend by police. [33] Robinson received a two-year suspended sentence, but the incident—along with other rumored run-ins between Robinson and police—gave Robinson a reputation for combativeness in the face of racial antagonism. [34] While at PJC, he was motivated by a preacher (the Rev. Karl Downs) to attend church on a regular basis, and Downs became a confidant for Robinson, a Christian. [35] Toward the end of his PJC tenure, Frank Robinson (to whom Robinson felt closest among his three brothers) was killed in a motorcycle accident. The event motivated Jackie to pursue his athletic career at the nearby University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he could remain closer to Frank's family. [23] [36]

UCLA and afterward

After graduating from PJC in spring 1939, [37] Robinson enrolled at UCLA, where he became the school's first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track. [38] [39]

He was one of four black players on the Bruins' 1939 football team the others were Woody Strode, Kenny Washington, and Ray Bartlett. Washington, Strode, and Robinson made up three of the team's four backfield players. [40] At a time when only a few black students played mainstream college football, this made UCLA college football's most integrated team. [41] [42] They went undefeated with four ties at 6–0–4. [43]

In track and field, Robinson won the 1940 NCAA championship in the long jump at 24 ft 10 + 1 ⁄ 4 in (7.58 m). [44] Baseball was Robinson's "worst sport" at UCLA he hit .097 in his only season, although in his first game he went 4-for-4 and twice stole home. [45]

While a senior at UCLA, Robinson met his future wife, Rachel Isum (b.1922), a UCLA freshman who was familiar with Robinson's athletic career at PJC. [46] He played football as a senior, but the 1940 Bruins won only one game. [47] In the spring, Robinson left college just shy of graduation, despite the reservations of his mother and Isum. [48] He took a job as an assistant athletic director with the government's National Youth Administration (NYA) in Atascadero, California. [49] [50] [51]

After the government ceased NYA operations, Robinson traveled to Honolulu in the fall of 1941 to play football for the semi-professional, racially integrated Honolulu Bears. [49] [51] After a short season, Robinson returned to California in December 1941 to pursue a career as running back for the Los Angeles Bulldogs of the Pacific Coast Football League. [52] By that time, however, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had taken place, which drew the United States into World War II and ended Robinson's nascent football career. [49]

In 1942, Robinson was drafted and assigned to a segregated Army cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas. Having the requisite qualifications, Robinson and several other black soldiers applied for admission to an Officer Candidate School (OCS) then located at Fort Riley. Although the Army's initial July 1941 guidelines for OCS had been drafted as race neutral, few black applicants were admitted into OCS until after subsequent directives by Army leadership. [53] As a result, the applications of Robinson and his colleagues were delayed for several months. [54] After protests by heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis (then stationed at Fort Riley) and with the help of Truman Gibson (then an assistant civilian aide to the Secretary of War), [55] the men were accepted into OCS. [49] [54] [56] The experience led to a personal friendship between Robinson and Louis. [57] [58] Upon finishing OCS, Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in January 1943. [39] Shortly afterward, Robinson and Isum were formally engaged. [54]

After receiving his commission, Robinson was reassigned to Fort Hood, Texas, where he joined the 761st "Black Panthers" Tank Battalion. While at Fort Hood, Robinson often used his weekend leave to visit the Rev. Karl Downs, President of Sam Huston College (now Huston–Tillotson University) in nearby Austin, Texas in California, Downs had been Robinson's pastor at Scott United Methodist Church while Robinson attended PJC. [33] [59]

An event on July 6, 1944, derailed Robinson's military career. [60] While awaiting results of hospital tests on the ankle he had injured in junior college, Robinson boarded an Army bus with a fellow officer's wife although the Army had commissioned its own unsegregated bus line, the bus driver ordered Robinson to move to the back of the bus. [61] [62] [63] Robinson refused. The driver backed down, but after reaching the end of the line, summoned the military police, who took Robinson into custody. [61] [64] When Robinson later confronted the investigating duty officer about racist questioning by the officer and his assistant, the officer recommended Robinson be court-martialed. [61] [65]

After Robinson's commander in the 761st, Paul L. Bates, refused to authorize the legal action, [66] Robinson was summarily transferred to the 758th Battalion—where the commander quickly consented to charge Robinson with multiple offenses, including, among other charges, public drunkenness, even though Robinson did not drink. [61] [67]

By the time of the court-martial in August 1944, the charges against Robinson had been reduced to two counts of insubordination during questioning. [61] Robinson was acquitted by an all-white panel of nine officers. [61]

Although his former unit, the 761st Tank Battalion, became the first black tank unit to see combat in World War II, Robinson's court-martial proceedings prohibited him from being deployed overseas thus, he never saw combat action. [68]

After his acquittal, he was transferred to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, where he served as a coach for army athletics until receiving an honorable discharge in November 1944. [69] While there, Robinson met a former player for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League, who encouraged Robinson to write the Monarchs and ask for a tryout. [70] Robinson took the former player's advice and wrote to Monarchs co-owner Thomas Baird. [71]

After his discharge, Robinson briefly returned to his old football club, the Los Angeles Bulldogs. [52] Robinson then accepted an offer from his old friend and pastor Rev. Karl Downs to be the athletic director at Samuel Huston College in Austin, then of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. [72] The job included coaching the school's basketball team for the 1944–45 season. [59] As it was a fledgling program, few students tried out for the basketball team, and Robinson even resorted to inserting himself into the lineup for exhibition games. [72] [73] Although his teams were outmatched by opponents, Robinson was respected as a disciplinarian coach, [59] and drew the admiration of, among others, Langston University basketball player Marques Haynes, a future member of the Harlem Globetrotters. [74]

Negro leagues and major league prospects

In early 1945, while Robinson was at Sam Huston College, the Kansas City Monarchs sent him a written offer to play professional baseball in the Negro leagues. [59] [75] Robinson accepted a contract for $400 per month. [49] [76] Although he played well for the Monarchs, Robinson was frustrated with the experience. He had grown used to a structured playing environment in college, and the Negro leagues' disorganization and embrace of gambling interests appalled him. [77] [78] The hectic travel schedule also placed a burden on his relationship with Isum, with whom he could now communicate only by letter. [79] In all, Robinson played 47 games at shortstop for the Monarchs, hitting .387 with five home runs, and registering 13 stolen bases. [80] He also appeared in the 1945 East–West All-Star Game, going hitless in five at-bats. [81]

During the season, Robinson pursued potential major league interests. No black man had played in the major leagues since Moses Fleetwood Walker in 1884, but the Boston Red Sox nevertheless held a tryout at Fenway Park for Robinson and other black players on April 16. [82] [83] The tryout, however, was a farce chiefly designed to assuage the desegregationist sensibilities of powerful Boston City Councilman Isadore H. Y. Muchnick. [84] Even with the stands limited to management, Robinson was subjected to racial epithets. [85] He left the tryout humiliated, [82] and more than 14 years later, in July 1959, the Red Sox became the last major league team to integrate its roster. [86]

Other teams, however, had more serious interest in signing a black ballplayer. In the mid-1940s, Branch Rickey, club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, began to scout the Negro leagues for a possible addition to the Dodgers' roster. Rickey selected Robinson from a list of promising black players and interviewed him for possible assignment to Brooklyn's International League farm club, the Montreal Royals. [87] Rickey was especially interested in making sure his eventual signee could withstand the inevitable racial abuse that would be directed at him. [8] [88] In a famous three-hour exchange on August 28, 1945, [89] Rickey asked Robinson if he could face the racial animus without taking the bait and reacting angrily—a concern given Robinson's prior arguments with law enforcement officials at PJC and in the military. [49] Robinson was aghast: "Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?" [88] [90] Rickey replied that he needed a Negro player "with guts enough not to fight back." [88] [90] After obtaining a commitment from Robinson to "turn the other cheek" to racial antagonism, Rickey agreed to sign him to a contract for $600 a month, equal to $8,625 today. [91] [92] Rickey did not offer compensation to the Monarchs, instead believing all Negro league players were free agents due to the contracts not containing a reserve clause. [93] Among those with whom Rickey discussed prospects was Wendell Smith, writer for the black weekly Pittsburgh Courier, who, according to Cleveland Indians owner and team president Bill Veeck, "influenced Rickey to take Jack Robinson, for which he's never completely gotten credit." [94]

Although he required Robinson to keep the arrangement a secret for the time being, Rickey committed to formally signing Robinson before November 1, 1945. [95] On October 23, it was publicly announced that Robinson would be assigned to the Royals for the 1946 season. [49] [92] [96] On the same day, with representatives of the Royals and Dodgers present, Robinson formally signed his contract with the Royals. [97] In what was later referred to as "The Noble Experiment", [49] [98] Robinson was the first black baseball player in the International League since the 1880s. [99] He was not necessarily the best player in the Negro leagues, [100] and black talents Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson were upset when Robinson was selected first. [101] Larry Doby, who broke the color line in the American League the same year as Robinson, said, "One of the things that was disappointing and disheartening to a lot of the black players at the time was that Jack was not the best player. The best was Josh Gibson. I think that's one of the reasons why Josh died so early—he was heartbroken." [102]

Rickey's offer allowed Robinson to leave behind the Monarchs and their grueling bus rides, and he went home to Pasadena. That September, he signed with Chet Brewer's Kansas City Royals, a post-season barnstorming team in the California Winter League. [103] Later that off-season, he briefly toured South America with another barnstorming team, while his fiancée Isum pursued nursing opportunities in New York City. [104] On February 10, 1946, Robinson and Isum were married by their old friend, the Rev. Karl Downs. [49] [105] [106]

Minor leagues

In 1946, Robinson arrived at Daytona Beach, Florida, for spring training with the Montreal Royals of the Class AAA International League. Clay Hopper, the manager of the Royals, asked Rickey to assign Robinson to any other Dodger affiliate, but Rickey refused. [107]

Robinson's presence was controversial in racially segregated Florida. He was not allowed to stay with his white teammates at the team hotel, and instead lodged at the home of Joe and Dufferin Harris, a politically active African American couple who introduced the Robinsons to civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune. [108] [109] [110] Since the Dodgers organization did not own a spring training facility, [111] scheduling was subject to the whim of area localities, several of which turned down any event involving Robinson or Johnny Wright, another black player whom Rickey had signed to the Dodgers' organization in January. In Sanford, Florida, the police chief threatened to cancel games if Robinson and Wright did not cease training activities there as a result, Robinson was sent back to Daytona Beach. [112] [113] In Jacksonville, the stadium was padlocked shut without warning on game day, by order of the city's Parks and Public Property director. [114] [115] In DeLand, a scheduled day game was postponed, ostensibly because of issues with the stadium's electrical lighting. [116] [117]

After much lobbying of local officials by Rickey himself, the Royals were allowed to host a game involving Robinson in Daytona Beach. [118] [119] Robinson made his Royals debut at Daytona Beach's City Island Ballpark on March 17, 1946, in an exhibition game against the team's parent club, the Dodgers. Robinson thus became the first black player to openly play for a minor league team against a major league team since the de facto baseball color line had been implemented in the 1880s. [3]

Later in spring training, after some less-than-stellar performances, Robinson was shifted from shortstop to second base, allowing him to make shorter throws to first base. [67] Robinson's performance soon rebounded. On April 18, 1946, Roosevelt Stadium hosted the Jersey City Giants' season opener against the Montreal Royals, marking the professional debut of the Royals' Jackie Robinson and the first time the color barrier had been broken in a game between two minor league clubs. [120] Pitching against Robinson was Warren Sandel who had played against him when they both lived in California. During Robinson's first at bat, the Jersey City catcher, Dick Bouknight, demanded that Sandel throw at Robinson, but Sandel refused. Although Sandel induced Robinson to ground out at his first at bat, Robinson ended up with four hits in his five trips to the plate his first hit was a three-run home run in the game's third inning. [121] He also scored four runs, drove in three, and stole two bases in the Royals' 14–1 victory. [122] Robinson proceeded to lead the International League that season with a .349 batting average and .985 fielding percentage, [22] and he was named the league's Most Valuable Player. [123] Although he often faced hostility while on road trips (the Royals were forced to cancel a Southern exhibition tour, for example), [67] the Montreal fan base enthusiastically supported Robinson. [124] [125] Whether fans supported or opposed it, Robinson's presence on the field was a boon to attendance more than one million people went to games involving Robinson in 1946, an astounding figure by International League standards. [126] In the fall of 1946, following the baseball season, Robinson returned home to California and briefly played professional basketball for the short-lived Los Angeles Red Devils. [127] [128]

Major leagues

Breaking the color barrier (1947)

In 1947, the Dodgers called Robinson up to the major leagues six days before the start of the season. With Eddie Stanky entrenched at second base for the Dodgers, Robinson played his initial major league season as a first baseman. [88] Robinson made his debut in a Dodgers uniform wearing number 42 on April 11, 1947, in a preseason exhibition game against the New York Yankees at Ebbets Field with 24,237 in attendance. [129] On April 15, Robinson made his major league debut at the relatively advanced age of 28 at Ebbets Field before a crowd of 26,623 spectators, more than 14,000 of whom were black. [130] Although he failed to get a base hit, he walked and scored a run in the Dodgers' 5–3 victory. [130] Robinson became the first player since 1884 to openly break the major league baseball color line. [131] Black fans began flocking to see the Dodgers when they came to town, abandoning their Negro league teams. [101]

Robinson's promotion met a generally positive, although mixed, reception among newspapers and white major league players. [126] [132] However, racial tension existed in the Dodger clubhouse. [133] Some Dodger players insinuated they would sit out rather than play alongside Robinson. The brewing mutiny ended when Dodgers management took a stand for Robinson. Manager Leo Durocher informed the team, "I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin' zebra. I'm the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What's more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded." [134]

Robinson was also derided by opposing teams. [135] According to a press report, the St. Louis Cardinals threatened to strike if Robinson played and to spread the walkout across the entire National League. [136] Existence of the plot was said to have been leaked by the Cardinals' team physician, Robert Hyland, to a friend, the New York Herald Tribune ' s Rutherford "Rud" Rennie. The reporter, concerned about protecting Hyland's anonymity and job, in turn leaked it to his Tribune colleague and editor, Stanley Woodward, whose own subsequent reporting with other sources protected Hyland. [137] [138] [139] The Woodward article made national headlines. After it was published, National League President Ford Frick and Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler let it be known that any striking players would be suspended. "You will find that the friends that you think you have in the press box will not support you, that you will be outcasts," Frick was quoted as saying. "I do not care if half the league strikes. Those who do it will encounter quick retribution. All will be suspended and I don't care if it wrecks the National League for five years. This is the United States of America and one citizen has as much right to play as another." [139] [140] [141] [142] Woodward's article received the E. P. Dutton Award in 1947 for Best Sports Reporting. [139] The Cardinals players denied that they were planning to strike, and Woodward later told author Roger Kahn that Frick was his true source writer Warren Corbett said that Frick's speech "never happened". [136] Regardless, the report led to Robinson receiving increased support from the sports media. Even The Sporting News, a publication that had backed the color line, came out against the idea of a strike. [136]

Robinson nonetheless became the target of rough physical play by opponents (particularly the Cardinals). At one time, he received a seven-inch gash in his leg from Enos Slaughter. [143] On April 22, 1947, during a game between the Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies, Phillies players and manager Ben Chapman called Robinson a "nigger" from their dugout and yelled that he should "go back to the cotton fields". [144] [145] Rickey later recalled that Chapman "did more than anybody to unite the Dodgers. When he poured out that string of unconscionable abuse, he solidified and united thirty men." [146]

Robinson did, however, receive significant encouragement from several major league players. Robinson named Lee "Jeep" Handley, who played for the Phillies at the time, as the first opposing player to wish him well. [147] Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese once came to Robinson's defense with the famous line, "You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them." [148] In 1947 or 1948, Reese is said to have put his arm around Robinson in response to fans who shouted racial slurs at Robinson before a game in Boston or Cincinnati. [149] [150] A statue by sculptor William Behrends, unveiled at KeySpan Park on November 1, 2005, depicts Reese with his arm around Robinson. [151] Jewish baseball star Hank Greenberg, who had to deal with ethnic epithets during his career, also encouraged Robinson. Following an incident where Greenberg collided with Robinson at first base, he "whispered a few words into Robinson's ear", which Robinson later characterized as "words of encouragement." [152] Greenberg had advised him to overcome his critics by defeating them in games. [152] Robinson also talked frequently with Larry Doby, who endured his own hardships since becoming the first black player in the American League with the Cleveland Indians, as the two spoke to one another via telephone throughout the season. [153]

Robinson finished the season having played in 151 games for the Dodgers, with a batting average of .297, an on-base percentage of .383, and a .427 slugging percentage. He had 175 hits (scoring 125 runs) including 31 doubles, 5 triples, and 12 home runs, driving in 48 runs for the year. Robinson led the league in sacrifice hits, with 28, and in stolen bases, with 29. [154] His cumulative performance earned him the inaugural Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year Award (separate National and American League Rookie of the Year honors were not awarded until 1949). [155]

MVP, Congressional testimony, and film biography (1948–1950)

Following Stanky's trade to the Boston Braves in March 1948, Robinson took over second base, where he logged a .980 fielding percentage that year (second in the National League at the position, fractionally behind Stanky). [156] Robinson had a batting average of .296 and 22 stolen bases for the season. [157] In a 12–7 win against the St. Louis Cardinals on August 29, 1948, he hit for the cycle—a home run, a triple, a double, and a single in the same game. [158] The Dodgers briefly moved into first place in the National League in late August 1948, but they ultimately finished third as the Braves went on to win the league title and lose to the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. [159]

Racial pressure on Robinson eased in 1948 when a number of other black players entered the major leagues. Larry Doby (who broke the color barrier in the American League on July 5, 1947, just 11 weeks after Robinson) and Satchel Paige played for the Cleveland Indians, and the Dodgers had three other black players besides Robinson. [156] In February 1948, he signed a $12,500 contract (equal to $134,643 today) with the Dodgers while a significant amount, this was less than Robinson made in the off-season from a vaudeville tour, where he answered pre-set baseball questions and a speaking tour of the South. Between the tours, he underwent surgery on his right ankle. Because of his off-season activities, Robinson reported to training camp 30 pounds (14 kg) overweight. He lost the weight during training camp, but dieting left him weak at the plate. [160] In 1948, Wendell Smith's book, Jackie Robinson: My Own Story, was released. [161]

In the spring of 1949, Robinson turned to Hall of Famer George Sisler, working as an advisor to the Dodgers, for batting help. At Sisler's suggestion, Robinson spent hours at a batting tee, learning to hit the ball to right field. [162] Sisler taught Robinson to anticipate a fastball, on the theory that it is easier to subsequently adjust to a slower curveball. [162] Robinson also noted that "Sisler showed me how to stop lunging, how to check my swing until the last fraction of a second". [162] The tutelage helped Robinson raise his batting average from .296 in 1948 to .342 in 1949. [162] In addition to his improved batting average, Robinson stole 37 bases that season, was second place in the league for both doubles and triples, and registered 124 runs batted in with 122 runs scored. [88] For the performance Robinson earned the Most Valuable Player Award for the National League. [88] Baseball fans also voted Robinson as the starting second baseman for the 1949 All-Star Game—the first All-Star Game to include black players. [163] [164]

That year, a song about Robinson by Buddy Johnson, "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?", reached number 13 on the charts Count Basie recorded a famous version. [165] Ultimately, the Dodgers won the National League pennant, but lost in five games to the New York Yankees in the 1949 World Series. [156]

Summer 1949 brought an unwanted distraction for Robinson. In July, he was called to testify before the United States House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) concerning statements made that April by black athlete and actor Paul Robeson. Robinson was reluctant to testify, but he eventually agreed to do so, fearing it might negatively affect his career if he declined. [166]

In 1950, Robinson led the National League in double plays made by a second baseman with 133. [158] His salary that year was the highest any Dodger had been paid to that point: $35,000 [167] ($376,480 in 2020 dollars [168] ). He finished the year with 99 runs scored, a .328 batting average, and 12 stolen bases. [157] The year saw the release of a film biography of Robinson's life, The Jackie Robinson Story, in which Robinson played himself, [169] and actress Ruby Dee played Rachel "Rae" (Isum) Robinson. [170] The project had been previously delayed when the film's producers refused to accede to demands of two Hollywood studios that the movie include scenes of Robinson being tutored in baseball by a white man. [171] The New York Times wrote that Robinson, "doing that rare thing of playing himself in the picture's leading role, displays a calm assurance and composure that might be envied by many a Hollywood star." [172]

Robinson's Hollywood exploits, however, did not sit well with Dodgers co-owner Walter O'Malley, who referred to Robinson as "Rickey's prima donna". [173] In late 1950, Rickey's contract as the Dodgers' team President expired. Weary of constant disagreements with O'Malley, and with no hope of being re-appointed as President of the Dodgers, Rickey cashed out his one-quarter financial interest in the team, leaving O'Malley in full control of the franchise. [174] Rickey shortly thereafter became general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Robinson was disappointed at the turn of events and wrote a sympathetic letter to Rickey, whom he considered a father figure, stating, "Regardless of what happens to me in the future, it all can be placed on what you have done and, believe me, I appreciate it." [175] [176] [177]

Pennant races and outside interests (1951–1953)

Before the 1951 season, O'Malley reportedly offered Robinson the job of manager of the Montreal Royals, effective at the end of Robinson's playing career. O'Malley was quoted in the Montreal Standard as saying, "Jackie told me that he would be both delighted and honored to tackle this managerial post"—although reports differed as to whether a position was ever formally offered. [178] [179]

During the 1951 season, Robinson led the National League in double plays made by a second baseman for the second year in a row, with 137. [158] He also kept the Dodgers in contention for the 1951 pennant. During the last game of the regular season, in the 13th inning, he had a hit to tie the game and then hit a home run in the 14th inning, which proved to be the winning margin. This forced a best-of-three playoff series against the crosstown rival New York Giants. [180]

Despite Robinson's regular-season heroics, on October 3, 1951, the Dodgers lost the pennant on Bobby Thomson's famous home run, known as the Shot Heard 'Round the World. Overcoming his dejection, Robinson dutifully observed Thomson's feet to ensure he touched all the bases. Dodgers sportscaster Vin Scully later noted that the incident showed "how much of a competitor Robinson was." [181] He finished the season with 106 runs scored, a batting average of .335, and 25 stolen bases. [157]

Robinson had what was an average year for him in 1952. [182] He finished the year with 104 runs, a .308 batting average, and 24 stolen bases. [157] He did, however, record a career-high on-base percentage of .436. [157] The Dodgers improved on their performance from the year before, winning the National League pennant before losing the 1952 World Series to the New York Yankees in seven games. That year, on the television show Youth Wants to Know, Robinson challenged the Yankees' general manager, George Weiss, on the racial record of his team, which had yet to sign a black player. [183] Sportswriter Dick Young, whom Robinson had described as a "bigot", said, "If there was one flaw in Jackie, it was the common one. He believed that everything unpleasant that happened to him happened because of his blackness." [184] The 1952 season was the last year Robinson was an everyday starter at second base. Afterward, Robinson played variously at first, second, and third bases, shortstop, and in the outfield, with Jim Gilliam, another black player, taking over everyday second base duties. [157] Robinson's interests began to shift toward the prospect of managing a major league team. He had hoped to gain experience by managing in the Puerto Rican Winter League, but according to the New York Post, Commissioner Happy Chandler denied the request. [185]

In 1953, Robinson had 109 runs, a .329 batting average, and 17 steals, [157] leading the Dodgers to another National League pennant (and another World Series loss to the Yankees, this time in six games). Robinson's continued success spawned a string of death threats. [186] He was not dissuaded, however, from addressing racial issues publicly. That year, he served as editor for Our Sports magazine, a periodical focusing on Negro sports issues contributions to the magazine included an article on golf course segregation by Robinson's old friend Joe Louis. [187] [188] Robinson also openly criticized segregated hotels and restaurants that served the Dodger organization a number of these establishments integrated as a result, including the five-star Chase Park Hotel in St. Louis. [143] [189]

World Championship and retirement (1954–1956)

In 1954, Robinson had 62 runs scored, a .311 batting average, and 7 steals. His best day at the plate was on June 17, when he hit two home runs and two doubles. [157] [158] The following autumn, Robinson won his only championship when the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series. Although the team enjoyed ultimate success, 1955 was the worst year of Robinson's individual career. He hit .256 and stole only 12 bases. The Dodgers tried Robinson in the outfield and as a third baseman, both because of his diminishing abilities and because Gilliam was established at second base. [190] Robinson, then 36 years old, [191] missed 49 games and did not play in Game 7 of the World Series. [181] Robinson missed the game because manager Walter Alston decided to play Gilliam at second and Don Hoak at third base. That season, the Dodgers' Don Newcombe became the first black major league pitcher to win twenty games in a year. [192]

In 1956, Robinson had 61 runs scored, a .275 batting average, and 12 steals. [157] By then, he had begun to exhibit the effects of diabetes and to lose interest in the prospect of playing or managing professional baseball. [185] Robinson ended his major league career when he struck out to end Game 7 of the 1956 World Series. [193] After the season, the Dodgers traded Robinson to the arch-rival New York Giants for Dick Littlefield and $35,000 cash (equal to $333,164 today). The trade, however, was never completed unbeknownst to the Dodgers, Robinson had already agreed with the president of Chock full o'Nuts to quit baseball and become an executive with the company. [194] Since Robinson had sold exclusive rights to any retirement story to Look magazine two years previously, [194] his retirement decision was revealed through the magazine, instead of through the Dodgers organization. [195]

Robinson's major league debut brought an end to approximately sixty years of segregation in professional baseball, known as the baseball color line. [131] After World War II, several other forces were also leading the country toward increased equality for blacks, including their accelerated migration to the North, where their political clout grew, and President Harry Truman's desegregation of the military in 1948. [196] Robinson's breaking of the baseball color line and his professional success symbolized these broader changes and demonstrated that the fight for equality was more than simply a political matter. Civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr. said that he was "a legend and a symbol in his own time", and that he "challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration." [197] According to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robinson's "efforts were a monumental step in the civil-rights revolution in America . [His] accomplishments allowed black and white Americans to be more respectful and open to one another and more appreciative of everyone's abilities." [198]

Beginning his major league career at the relatively advanced age of 28, he played only ten seasons from 1947 to 1956, all of them for the Brooklyn Dodgers. [199] During his career, the Dodgers played in six World Series, and Robinson himself played in six All-Star Games. [6] In 1999, he was posthumously named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. [200]

Robinson's career is generally considered to mark the beginning of the post–"long ball" era in baseball, in which a reliance on raw power-hitting gave way to balanced offensive strategies that used footspeed to create runs through aggressive baserunning. [201] Robinson exhibited the combination of hitting ability and speed which exemplified the new era. He scored more than 100 runs in six of his ten seasons (averaging more than 110 runs from 1947 to 1953), had a .311 career batting average, a .409 career on-base percentage, a .474 slugging percentage, and substantially more walks than strikeouts (740 to 291). [157] [199] [202] Robinson was one of only two players during the span of 1947–56 to accumulate at least 125 steals while registering a slugging percentage over .425 (Minnie Miñoso was the other). [203] He accumulated 197 stolen bases in total, [157] including 19 steals of home. None of the latter were double steals (in which a player stealing home is assisted by a player stealing another base at the same time). [204] Robinson has been referred to by author David Falkner as "the father of modern base-stealing". [205]

Historical statistical analysis indicates Robinson was an outstanding fielder throughout his ten years in the major leagues and at virtually every position he played. [206] After playing his rookie season at first base, [88] Robinson spent most of his career as a second baseman. [207] He led the league in fielding among second basemen in 1950 and 1951. [208] [209] Toward the end of his career, he played about 2,000 innings at third base and about 1,175 innings in the outfield, excelling at both. [206]

Assessing himself, Robinson said, "I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me . all I ask is that you respect me as a human being." [148] Regarding Robinson's qualities on the field, Leo Durocher said, "Ya want a guy that comes to play. This guy didn't just come to play. He come to beat ya. He come to stuff the goddamn bat right up your ass." [210]

Portrayals on stage, film and television

Robinson portrayed himself in the 1950 motion picture The Jackie Robinson Story. [211] Other portrayals include:

  • John Lafayette, in the 1978 ABC television special "A Home Run for Love" (broadcast as an ABC Afterschool Special). [212] , in the 1981 Broadway production of the musicalThe First. [213][214][215]
  • Michael-David Gordon, in the 1989 Off-Broadway production of the musical Play to Win. [216] , in the 1990 TNT television movie The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson. [217][218] , in the 1996 HBO television movie Soul of the Game. [219][220]
  • Antonio Todd in "Colors", a 2005 episode of the CBS television series Cold Case. [221] , in the 2013 motion picture 42. [222]
  • Robert Hamilton in "Sundown", a 2020 episode of the HBO television series Lovecraft Country. [223]

Robinson was also the subject of a 2016 PBS documentary, Jackie Robinson, which was directed by Ken Burns and features Jamie Foxx doing voice-over as Robinson. [224]

Robinson once told future Hall of Fame inductee Hank Aaron that "the game of baseball is great, but the greatest thing is what you do after your career is over." [225] Robinson retired from baseball at age 37 on January 5, 1957. [226] Later that year, after he complained of numerous physical ailments, he was diagnosed with diabetes, a disease that also afflicted his brothers. [227] Although Robinson adopted an insulin injection regimen, the state of medicine at the time could not prevent the continued deterioration of Robinson's physical condition from the disease. [228]

In October 1959, Robinson entered the Greenville Municipal Airport's whites-only waiting room. Airport police asked Robinson to leave, but he refused. At a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) speech in Greenville, South Carolina, Robinson urged "complete freedom" and encouraged black citizens to vote and to protest their second-class citizenship. The following January, approximately 1,000 people marched on New Year's Day to the airport, [229] [230] which was desegregated shortly thereafter. [231]

In his first year of eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, [68] Robinson encouraged voters to consider only his on-field qualifications, rather than his cultural impact on the game. [232] He was elected on the first ballot, becoming the first black player inducted into the Cooperstown museum. [22]

In 1965, Robinson served as an analyst for ABC's Major League Baseball Game of the Week telecasts, the first black person to do so. [233] In 1966, Robinson was hired as general manager for the short-lived Brooklyn Dodgers of the Continental Football League. [234] [235] In 1972, he served as a part-time commentator on Montreal Expos telecasts. [236]

On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired his uniform number, 42, alongside those of Roy Campanella (39) and Sandy Koufax (32). [237] From 1957 to 1964, Robinson was the vice president for personnel at Chock full o'Nuts he was the first black person to serve as vice president of a major American corporation. [22] [238] Robinson always considered his business career as advancing the cause of black people in commerce and industry. [239] Robinson also chaired the NAACP's million-dollar Freedom Fund Drive in 1957, and served on the organization's board until 1967. [238] In 1964, he helped found, with Harlem businessman Dunbar McLaurin, Freedom National Bank—a black-owned and operated commercial bank based in Harlem. [238] He also served as the bank's first chairman of the board. [240] In 1970, Robinson established the Jackie Robinson Construction Company to build housing for low-income families. [238] [241]

Robinson was active in politics throughout his post-baseball life. He identified himself as a political independent, [242] [243] although he held conservative opinions on several issues, including the Vietnam War (he once wrote to Martin Luther King Jr. to defend the Johnson Administration's military policy). [244] After supporting Richard Nixon in his 1960 presidential race against John F. Kennedy, Robinson later praised Kennedy effusively for his stance on civil rights. [245] Robinson was angered by conservative Republican opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. [246] He became one of six national directors for Nelson Rockefeller's unsuccessful campaign to be nominated as the Republican candidate for the 1964 presidential election. [238] After the party nominated Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona instead, Robinson left the party's convention commenting that he now had "a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler's Germany". [247] He later became special assistant for community affairs when Rockefeller was re-elected governor of New York in 1966. [238] Switching his allegiance to the Democrats, he subsequently supported Hubert Humphrey against Nixon in 1968. [195]

Robinson protested against the major leagues' ongoing lack of minority managers and central office personnel, and he turned down an invitation to appear in an old-timers' game at Yankee Stadium in 1969. [249] He made his final public appearance on October 15, 1972, throwing the ceremonial first pitch before Game 2 of the World Series at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. He gratefully accepted a plaque honoring the twenty-fifth anniversary of his MLB debut, but also commented, "I'm going to be tremendously more pleased and more proud when I look at that third base coaching line one day and see a black face managing in baseball." [250] [251] This wish was only fulfilled after Robinson's death: following the 1974 season, the Cleveland Indians gave their managerial post to Frank Robinson (no relation to Jackie), a Hall of Fame-bound player who would go on to manage three other teams. Despite the success of these two Robinsons and other black players, the number of African-American players in Major League Baseball has declined since the 1970s. [252] [253]

After Robinson's retirement from baseball, his wife Rachel Robinson pursued a career in academic nursing. She became an assistant professor at the Yale School of Nursing and director of nursing at the Connecticut Mental Health Center. [254] She also served on the board of the Freedom National Bank until it closed in 1990. [255] She and Jackie had three children: Jackie Robinson Jr. (1946–1971), Sharon Robinson (b. 1950), and David Robinson (b. 1952). [256]

Robinson's eldest son, Jackie Robinson Jr., had emotional trouble during his childhood and entered special education at an early age. [257] He enrolled in the Army in search of a disciplined environment, served in the Vietnam War, and was wounded in action on November 19, 1965. [258] After his discharge, he struggled with drug problems. Robinson Jr. eventually completed the treatment program at Daytop Village in Seymour, Connecticut, and became a counselor at the institution. [259] On June 17, 1971, he was killed in an automobile accident at age 24. [260] [261] The experience with his son's drug addiction turned Robinson Sr. into an avid anti-drug crusader toward the end of his life. [262]

Robinson did not long outlive his son. Complications from heart disease and diabetes weakened Robinson and made him almost blind by middle age. On October 24, 1972, Robinson died of a heart attack at his home on 95 Cascade Road in North Stamford, Connecticut he was 53 years old. [88] [260] Robinson's funeral service on October 27, 1972, at Upper Manhattan's Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, attracted 2,500 mourners. [263] [264] Many of his former teammates and other famous baseball players served as pallbearers, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson gave the eulogy. [263] Tens of thousands of people lined the subsequent procession route to Robinson's interment site at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, where he was buried next to his son Jackie and mother-in-law Zellee Isum. [263] Twenty-five years after Robinson's death, the Interboro Parkway was renamed the Jackie Robinson Parkway in his memory. This parkway bisects the cemetery in close proximity to Robinson's gravesite. [265]

After Robinson's death, his widow founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and she remains an officer as of 2021. [266] On April 15, 2008, she announced that in 2010 the foundation would open a museum devoted to Jackie in Lower Manhattan. [267] Robinson's daughter, Sharon, became a midwife, educator, director of educational programming for MLB, and the author of two books about her father. [268] His youngest son, David, who has ten children, is a coffee grower and social activist in Tanzania. [269] [270] [271]

According to a poll conducted in 1947, Robinson was the second most popular man in the country, behind Bing Crosby. [272] In 1999, he was named by Time on its list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. [273] Also in 1999, he ranked number 44 on the Sporting News list of Baseball's 100 Greatest Players [274] and was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team as the top vote-getter among second basemen. [275] Baseball writer Bill James, in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, ranked Robinson as the 32nd greatest player of all time strictly on the basis of his performance on the field, noting that he was one of the top players in the league throughout his career. [276] Robinson was among the 25 charter members of UCLA's Athletics Hall of Fame in 1984. [45] In 2002, Molefi Kete Asante included Robinson on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans. [277] Robinson has also been honored by the United States Postal Service on three separate postage stamps, in 1982, 1999, and 2000. [278]

The City of Pasadena has recognized Robinson with a baseball diamond and stadium named Jackie Robinson Field in Brookside Park next to the Rose Bowl, [279] and with the Jackie Robinson Center (a community outreach center providing health services). [280] In 1997, a $325,000 bronze sculpture (equal to $523,948 today) by artists Ralph Helmick, Stu Schecter, and John Outterbridge depicting oversized nine-foot busts of Robinson and his brother Mack was erected at Garfield Avenue, across from the main entrance of Pasadena City Hall a granite footprint lists multiple donors to the commission project, which was organized by the Robinson Memorial Foundation and supported by members of the Robinson family. [281] [282]

Major League Baseball has honored Robinson many times since his death. In 1987, both the National and American League Rookie of the Year Awards were renamed the "Jackie Robinson Award" in honor of the first recipient (Robinson's Major League Rookie of the Year Award in 1947 encompassed both leagues). [283] [284] On April 15, 1997, Robinson's jersey number, 42, was retired throughout Major League Baseball, the first time any jersey number had been retired throughout one of the four major American sports leagues. Under the terms of the retirement, a grandfather clause allowed the handful of players who wore number 42 to continue doing so in tribute to Robinson, until such time as they subsequently changed teams or jersey numbers. [285] This affected players such as the Mets' Butch Huskey and Boston's Mo Vaughn. The Yankees' Mariano Rivera, who retired at the end of the 2013 season, [286] [287] was the last player in Major League Baseball to wear jersey number 42 on a regular basis. Since 1997, only Wayne Gretzky's number 99, retired by the NHL in 2000, has been retired league-wide in any of the four major sports. [288] There have also been calls for MLB to retire number 21 league-wide in honor of Roberto Clemente, a sentiment opposed by the Robinson family. [289]

As an exception to the retired-number policy, MLB began honoring Robinson by allowing players to wear number 42 on April 15, Jackie Robinson Day, which is an annual observance that started in 2004. [290] [291] For the 60th anniversary of Robinson's major league debut, MLB invited players to wear the number 42 on Jackie Robinson Day in 2007. [290] The gesture was originally the idea of outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr., who sought Rachel Robinson's permission to wear the number. [292] After Griffey received her permission, Commissioner Bud Selig not only allowed Griffey to wear the number, but also extended an invitation to all major league teams to do the same. [293] Ultimately, more than 200 players wore number 42, including the entire rosters of the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Pittsburgh Pirates. [290] The tribute was continued in 2008, when, during games on April 15, all members of the Mets, Cardinals, Washington Nationals, and Tampa Bay Rays wore Robinson's number 42. [294] [295] On June 25, 2008, MLB installed a new plaque for Robinson at the Baseball Hall of Fame commemorating his off-the-field impact on the game as well as his playing statistics. [232] In 2009, all of MLB's uniformed personnel (including players) wore number 42 on April 15 this tradition has continued every year since on that date. [296]

At the November 2006 groundbreaking for Citi Field, the new ballpark for the New York Mets, it was announced that the main entrance, modeled on the one in Brooklyn's old Ebbets Field, would be called the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. The rotunda was dedicated at the opening of Citi Field on April 16, 2009. [297] It honors Robinson with large quotations spanning the inner curve of the facade and features a large freestanding statue of his number, 42, which has become an attraction in itself. Mets owner Fred Wilpon announced that the Mets—in conjunction with Citigroup and the Jackie Robinson Foundation—will create a Jackie Robinson Museum and Learning Center, located at the headquarters of the Jackie Robinson Foundation at One Hudson Square, along Canal Street in lower Manhattan. Along with the museum, scholarships will be awarded to "young people who live by and embody Jackie's ideals." [298] [299] [300] The museum hopes to open by 2020. [301] At Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, a statue of Robinson was introduced in 2017. [302] The New York Yankees honor Robinson with a plaque in Monument Park. [303]

Since 2004, the Aflac National High School Baseball Player of the Year has been presented the "Jackie Robinson Award". [304]

Robinson has also been recognized outside of baseball. In December 1956, the NAACP recognized him with the Spingarn Medal, which it awards annually for the highest achievement by an African-American. [238] President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded Robinson the Presidential Medal of Freedom on March 26, 1984, [305] and on March 2, 2005, President George W. Bush gave Robinson's widow the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress Robinson was only the second baseball player to receive the award, after Roberto Clemente. [306] On August 20, 2007, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, announced that Robinson was inducted into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts in Sacramento. [307]

A number of buildings have been named in Robinson's honor. The UCLA Bruins baseball team plays in Jackie Robinson Stadium, [308] which, because of the efforts of Jackie's brother Mack, features a memorial statue of Robinson by sculptor Richard H. Ellis. [309] The stadium also unveiled a new mural of Robinson by Mike Sullivan on April 14, 2013. City Island Ballpark in Daytona Beach, Florida was renamed Jackie Robinson Ballpark in 1990 and a statue of Robinson with two children stands in front of the ballpark. His wife Rachel was present for the dedication on September 15. 1990. [310] [311] A number of facilities at Pasadena City College (successor to PJC) are named in Robinson's honor, including Robinson Field, a football/soccer/track facility named jointly for Robinson and his brother Mack. [312] The New York Public School system has named a middle school after Robinson, [313] and Dorsey High School plays at a Los Angeles football stadium named after him. [314] His home in Brooklyn, the Jackie Robinson House, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976, [315] and Brooklyn residents sought to turn his home into a city landmark. [316] In 1978, Colonial Park in Harlem was renamed after Robinson. [317] [318] Robinson also has an asteroid named after him, 4319 Jackierobinson. [319] In 1997, the United States Mint issued a Jackie Robinson commemorative silver dollar, and five-dollar gold coin. [320] That same year, New York City renamed the Interboro Parkway in his honor. [321] A statue of Robinson at Journal Square Transportation Center in Jersey City, New Jersey, was dedicated in 1998. [322]

In 2011, the U.S. placed a plaque at Robinson's Montreal home to honor the ending of segregation in baseball. [323] The house, at 8232 avenue de Gaspé near Jarry Park, was Robinson's residence when he played for the Montreal Royals during 1946. In a letter read during the ceremony, Rachel Robinson, Jackie's widow, wrote: "I remember Montreal and that house very well and have always had warm feeling for that great city. Before Jack and I moved to Montreal, we had just been through some very rough treatment in the racially biased South during spring training in Florida. In the end, Montreal was the perfect place for him to get his start. We never had a threatening or unpleasant experience there. The people were so welcoming and saw Jack as a player and as a man." [324]

On November 22, 2014, UCLA announced that it would officially retire the number 42 across all university sports, effective immediately. While Robinson wore several different numbers during his UCLA career, the school chose 42 because it had become indelibly identified with him. [325] The only sport this did not affect was men's basketball, which had previously retired the number for Walt Hazzard (although Kevin Love was actually the last player in that sport to wear 42, with Hazzard's blessing). [326] [327] [328] [329] In a move paralleling that of MLB when it retired the number, UCLA allowed three athletes (in women's soccer, softball, and football) who were already wearing 42 to continue to do so for the remainder of their UCLA careers. The school also announced it would prominently display the number at all of its athletic venues. [325]

A jersey that Robinson brought home with him after his rookie season ended in 1947 was sold at an auction for $2.05 million on November 19, 2017. The price was the highest ever paid for a post-World War II jersey. [330]

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Tolerating Abuse

When Branch Rickey offered Robinson the opportunity to join the Brooklyn Dodgers, he did so on one condition: that Robinson would not respond to the inevitable abuse he would encounter. He accepted and kept his promise, showing an air of dignity and courage when faced with racist jeers, death threats and hate mail. This earned him a lot of admiration from both blacks and whites, which was also a great example for the civil rights movement that was to follow in the sixties and was known for its non-violent protests.

Jackie Robinson - History

From gang member to world-famous baseball player, Jackie Robinson helped break down barriers for African American athletes, proving that they can not only compete, but excel, in a variety of sports.

  • Jackie Robinson was the youngest of five children, born in 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. His father left the family a year later. His mother took the children and moved to Pasadena, California where she lived with other members of her family.
  • Jackie’s mom worked a lot of different jobs to support the family. They got by, but never had any extra. Growing up in Pasadena, where most white people had money, was hard. Jackie joined a gang for a little while, but dropped out with a friend’s encouragement.
  • Jackie attended John Muir High School. His older brothers told him to get involved in sports instead of gangs. Jackie played football, basketball, baseball, and tennis. He joined the track team too.
  • He went to Pasadena Junior College and kept on playing sports — football, basketball, baseball, and track. He won several awards and broke several records. While in college, he was asked to join the school’s Order of the Mast and Dagger, a special award for outstanding scholarly effort and service to the school.
  • In 1939, he transferred to UCLA and became the first athlete to win school letters in football, basketball, baseball, and track. During college, he was the least proficient in baseball.
  • After college, he worked as an athletic director and then a running back, until World War II drew him into military service.
  • He was assigned to the 761 st Black Panthers Tank Batallion in Fort Hood, Texas. On the weekends, he visited his friend, the Reverend Karl Downs, who had been his minister in Pasadena and now lived nearby.
  • During his military service, he got in trouble for refusing to move to the back of a bus. He was court-marshalled and charged with drunken conduct (even though he didn’t drink).
  • After the War, Jackie tried out for a spot in a major league baseball team. At that time, black baseball players weren’t allowed to play on white MLB teams, but Branch Rickey, part owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, liked Jackie enough to hire him anyway.
  • Many of the white baseball players didn’t like this. They’d push him and spit on him. The white crowds yelled insults. But he kept on playing.
  • Jackie Robinson went on to become one of the best baseball players ever in Major League Baseball. He paved the way for other athletes of color.

Questions and Answers

Question: Did Jackie Robinson have a family and children?

Answer: Jackie met his wife, Rachel, in college. They had three children. Jackie died in 1972, but his wife is still alive (as of 2019). She is a nurse, a public speaker, and the founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. She has earned twelve honorary doctorate degrees and numerous other awards for her work on equality, mental health, and education.

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Standing his Ground

As detailed in the masterful Jackie Robinson: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad, on July 6, 1944, Robinson “became entangled in a dispute that threatened to end his military service in disgrace.” While riding on a military bus returning to a hospital from “the colored officers club,” Robinson sat next to Virginia Jones, the wife of one of his fellow officers. Jones looked white — at least the white bus driver thought so. After a few blocks, the driver abruptly ordered Robinson “to move to the back of the bus.” Robinson, justifiably outraged, refused. Among other things, he had read that segregation was no longer allowed on military buses (pdf) and proceeded to engage in a form of protest prefiguring a similar action by Rosa Parks 11 years later.

Rampersad reprints Robinson’s statement about what happened next: “The bus driver asked me for my identification card. I refused to give it to him. He then went to the Dispatcher and told him something. What he told him I don’t know. He then comes back and tells the people that this nigger is making trouble. I told the driver to stop f—in with me, so he gets the rest of the men around there and starts blowing his top and someone calls the MP’s.” Robinson was placed under “arrest in quarters,” which meant that “he would be considered under arrest at the hospital, although without a guard. Robinson was then taken to the hospital in a police pickup truck.” A white officer would recall that Robinson “was handcuffed, and there were shackles on his legs. Robinson’s face was angry, the muscles on his face tight, his eyes half closed.”

Robinson was transferred to the 758th Tank Battalion on July 24, “where the commander signed orders to prosecute him.” On that day, he was arrested. Rampersad says that “At 1:45 in the afternoon on August 2, the case of The United States v. 2nd Lieutenant Jack R. Robinson, 0-10315861, Cavalry, Company C, 758th Tank Battalion, began.” Robinson’s fate was in the hands of nine men, eight of them white: “One was black another had been a UCLA student [where Robinson had been an undergraduate]. Six votes were needed for conviction.”

Robinson faced two charges: “The first, a violation of Article of War No. 63, accused him of ‘behaving with disrespect toward Capt. Gerald M. Bear, CMP, his superior officer’ … The second charge was a violation of Article No. 64, in this case ‘willful disobedience of lawful command of Gerald M. Bear, CMP, his superior.’ ” Three other charges were dropped before the trial began. Testimony reveals how bravely Robinson had fought to defend himself on the evening of the incident, including reportedly saying quite heroically, “Look here, you son-of-a-bitch, don’t you call me no nigger!” After a four-hour trial, Robinson was exonerated: “Robinson secured at least the four votes (secret and written) needed for his acquittal. He was found ‘not guilty of all specifications and charges.'”

Jackie Robinson's historic impact

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the so-called color barrier by becoming the first African American to play in Major League Baseball. On April 15, 2007, the 60th anniversary of this significant event, over 200 MLB players and some managers of all nationalities wore Robinson’s retired number 42 on their uniforms to honor him. The following are excerpts from an April 10, 1997, article written by Mike Gimbel on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Robinson joining the then Brooklyn Dodgers. Go to to read the article in its entirety.

Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball had a momentous impact on the anti-racist struggle in the U.S. It even had an important effect on U.S. imperialism’s political status on the world stage.

Jackie Robinson, perhaps the most exciting baseball player of his time, was more than a “mere” athlete who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Robinson grew up in Pasadena, Calif., a town so racist that it took until 1997 to officially acknowledge his accomplishments.

Jackie Robinson went into the segregated U.S. Army, where he became an officer. But he was court-martialed for failing to sit in the back of the bus at a Texas army base. The case became a national political incident and the army was forced to dismiss the charges against him.

Just as Robinson was no accidental figure, neither were those who chose him to break the color barrier. Nor was it accidental that Major League baseball was the arena for this historical event.

In order to understand the event in its proper context, one has to understand the period in which it happened.

The USSR had defeated Nazi Germany in World War II, and in doing so had liberated much of Eastern Europe from capitalist slavery. A huge liberation movement, led primarily by communist parties, was sweeping Asia. The Western powers, led by the U.S., were trying to break the workers’ movements in France, Italy and Greece, where armed resistance to fascism had been led by the communists.

The imperialist powers would have loved to present this as a struggle between communism and “democracy,” but they had a big problem: They were seen as racist oppressors on the world stage.

The Europeans still claimed most of the world as their colonies, and the U.S. was propping them up.

The U.S. had its own colonial holdings in Puerto Rico and the Pacific. In addition, the South was ruled by the Ku Klux Klan, an organization no better than Germany’s Nazi Party. The South was solidly held by the Democratic Party, and no Democrat could get elected president without the support of racist “Dixiecrats.”

In 1947, the civil rights movement had not yet begun. The U.S. military was still segregated and it would be seven more years before the “Brown vs. Board of Education” Supreme Court decision declared “separate but equal” schools to be unconstitutional.

But many Black soldiers were returning home after having risked their lives abroad. They came back to racism, in the North as well as the South.

Yet there was a completely different political current. The U.S. left and progressive movement was still very powerful. Communist Party membership hit its zenith in 1947. Mass May Day marches were held all over the country replete with red flags. The labor movement was involved in militant strikes and the left had a huge influence in it.

The U.S. ruling class could not credibly portray itself as “leader of the free world” while being perceived as the open oppressor of a large portion of its own population. Something had to be done.

Truman and the Dixiecrats

President Harry S. Truman, however, dared not act without support from the Dixiecrats. The U.S. ruling class seemed trapped by this quandary. The politicians couldn’t find an answer to this problem, which was so vital to U.S. imperialism. Another way had to be found.

Baseball became the arena where this struggle took center stage. Major League baseball is a sport unlike any other.

For much of [the past] century baseball could almost be considered a national religion. It is no accident that “tradition” is so highly prized by the “Lords of Baseball.” Nor that the singing of the national anthem has become such a prominent part of starting a game. Baseball is, after all, the “national pastime.” U.S. presidents traditionally throw out the first ball.

Had Jackie Robinson integrated professional football or basketball, he’d be a forgotten figure today. But breaking the color barrier in baseball would present a new image of the U.S. to the world.

However, the more far-seeing leaders of U.S. imperialism found that most of their class was so racist they had no inclination to support integration at any level.

Major League owners wouldn’t budge

The owners of the 16 Major League franchises were no different. These owners were, if anything, more right-wing than most of their fellow businessmen. They treated their teams as private plantations where they amused themselves with their “toys.” They got some notoriety by getting their names in the newspapers and/or used the teams to advertise their “real” businesses.

There was no way these reactionary owners, as a group, would voluntarily allow a Black player into the Major Leagues.

A few team owners might have been willing to integrate the Major Leagues, but the overwhelming majority were not for it.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were the original “America’s Team.” The “Beloved Bums” were second only to the New York Yankees as the richest sports franchise in the world.

The team performed in New York City—the very capital of high finance and home to the United Nations. The Dodger’s general manager was none other than Branch Rickey, the most renowned front-office baseball figure of the century.

He was considered the most far-sighted baseball leader. For the ruling class, he offered the added bonus of being very religious and anti-communist, as well as parsimonious when it came to paying the players.

The Dodgers were in the National League, considered a traditionally weaker league. It was only natural that a far-sighted, practical general manager would see the acquisition of Black players as a means of redressing this weakness and making the team more profitable.

Rickey, together with Baseball Commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler, planned the coup that got Jackie Robinson into the Major Leagues.

Rickey and Chandler used this power to get Robinson into the Major Leagues, over the objections of almost all the other owners. For this “treachery,” Chandler was bounced out as commissioner at the end of his term.

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Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919 to a family of sharecroppers. His mother, Mallie Robinson, single-handedly raised Jackie and her four other children. They were the only black family on their block, and the prejudice they encountered only strengthened their bond. From this humble beginning would grow the first baseball player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier that segregated the sport for more than 50 years.

Growing up in a large, single-parent family, Jackie excelled early at all sports and learned to make his own way in life. At UCLA, Jackie became the first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. In 1941, he was named to the All-American football team. Due to financial difficulties, he was forced to leave college and eventually decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. After two years in the army, he had progressed to second lieutenant. Jackie’s army career was cut short when he was court-martialed in relation to his objections with incidents of racial discrimination. In the end, Jackie left the Army with an honorable discharge.

In 1945, Jackie played one season in the Negro Baseball League, traveling all over the Midwest with the Kansas City Monarchs. But greater challenges and achievements were in store for him. In 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey approached Jackie about joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Major Leagues had not had an African-American player since 1889, when baseball became segregated. When Jackie first donned a Brooklyn Dodger uniform, he pioneered the integration of professional athletics in America. By breaking the color barrier in baseball, the nation’s preeminent sport, he courageously challenged the deeply rooted custom of racial segregation in both the North and the South.

At the end of Robinson’s rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he had become National League Rookie of the Year with 12 homers, a league-leading 29 steals, and a .297 average. In 1949, he was selected as the NL’s Most Valuable player of the Year and also won the batting title with a .342 average that same year. As a result of his great success, Jackie was eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

Jackie married Rachel Isum, a nursing student he met at UCLA, in 1946. As an African-American baseball player, Jackie was on display for the whole country to judge. Rachel and their three children, Jackie Jr., Sharon and David, provided Jackie with the emotional support and sense of purpose essential for bearing the pressure during the early years of baseball.

Jackie Robinson’s life and legacy will be remembered as one of the most important in American history. In 1997, the world celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Jackie’s breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier. In doing so, we honored the man who stood defiantly against those who would work against racial equality and acknowledged the profound influence of one man’s life on the American culture. On the date of Robinson’s historic debut, all Major League teams across the nation celebrated this milestone. Also that year, The United States Post Office honored Robinson by making him the subject of a commemorative postage stamp. On Tuesday, April 15th, President Bill Clinton paid tribute to Jackie at Shea Stadium in New York in a special ceremony.

The Activism of Jackie Robinson

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson trotted out to first base for the Dodgers at Brooklyn&aposs Ebbets Field, erasing the unofficial color line that had stood in big league baseball for nearly 60 years. By the end of the season, his dazzling play had earned him baseball&aposs inaugural Rookie of the Year Award, cementing the belief that Black people more than deserved a place alongside the best white players in the national pastime. 

For many, the story of Robinson ends there. Or maybe when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. What often goes untold is his continued battle for equality after leaving baseball, a period that lasted nearly twice as long as his major league career.

After announcing his retirement from the sport in early 1957, Robinson was named vice president for personnel at the Chock Full O&apos Nuts coffee company. He also joined the NAACP as chair of its million-dollar Freedom Fund Drive, eventually earning election to the organization&aposs board of directors. 

However, executive positions weren&apost enough for the former athlete, whose competitive juices had him itching to get back into the public arena. He joined Martin Luther King Jr. as honorary chairmen of the Youth March for Integrated Schools in 1958 and became involved with Dr. King&aposs Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He also began writing a syndicated newspaper column, through which he mused on matters of race relations, family life and politics. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and baseball Hall-of-Famer Jackie Robinson chat together before a press conference in New York. 

Robinson took to advocating advancement through "the ballot and the buck." He became a prominent political supporter, throwing his weight behind Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential election, and eventually emerging as a strong ally of moderate New York Republican Nelson Rockefeller. He also backed his talk for economic independence by helping to found the Black-owned Freedom National Bank, which provided loans and services for the minority community. 

However, by the mid-1960s Robinson was becoming an outdated figure in the Civil Rights movement. An advocate of the non-violent approach of Dr. King and the NAACP, he rejected the more extreme measures proposed by charismatic young leaders like H. Rap Brown and Huey Newton, and engaged in a nasty back-and-forth with Malcolm X through his column. Even his shine as a Black sports icon was somewhat diminished, with contemporary athletes like Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown dominating their fields and speaking out in ways that had seemed unthinkable 20 years earlier.

Robinson had his own share of issues with the NAACP, and in 1967 he publicly split with the organization over its "unresponsive" leadership. Furthermore, his political views left him increasingly isolated as an activist he clashed with Dr. King over the support of the Vietnam War, and he returned to Nixon in 1968 and 1972, even as many of his fellow African Americans were abandoning the Republican Party.

Still, Robinson continued fighting for larger causes even as his own health deteriorated. In 1970 he launched the Jackie Robinson Construction Company to build low and moderate-income housing for minorities. In October 1972, during a ceremony to throw out the first pitch before a World Series game, he made a point to remind everyone that baseball had yet to appoint its first Black manager. Nine days later, he was dead from a heart attack.

Robinson is justly remembered for breaking down racial barriers and opening the doors of opportunity for Black people across professional sports. But long after he was done with baseball, he continued to fight for equal footing as a writer, organizer, speaker, businessman and political supporter, facing a far more expansive playing field without many of the natural advantages he enjoyed as a gifted athlete. For that, he deserves just as much credit when we remember himਊs an American hero.

Watch the video: Jackie Robinson game (January 2022).