Beginning on April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson bravely faced great adversity as he crossed the color barrier by becoming the first black player in the all-white game of Major League Baseball. The recent movie, 42, presented a pretty good picture of history but in no way came close to showing the real danger with outright hatred, harassment, and even death threats, he faced each day as he went onto the field with his team – the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Racial segregation had relegated Robinson to the Negro leagues, which had been operating since the 1880’s, until Dodgers owner Branch Rickey decided to shake things up and asked Robinson to play for his team. Robinson played with the Dodgers for ten seasons, during which he played in six World Series, and was part of the 1955 World Championship. Robinson was the first black player to receive the MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947. He also won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1949, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. Not only did Robinson hold these titles, but he was also a six time All-Star player, held the 1949 National League Batting Title, and was a two time champion holding the title of National League Stolen Bases Champion, which is one of his skills that got him noticed on the field in the first place. When he began playing with the white teams, many of the pitchers would not allow Robinson the chance to hit (by walking him each time he was at-bat), so Robinson made a name for himself by stealing the bases and scoring points for his team in that way.
Some of Robinson’s accomplish that aren’t so well known happened off the baseball field. He was the first black person to be an MLB sports announcer for ABC News, and was also the first ever black vice-president of a major American corporation. Jackie Robinson also helped start the African-American-owned Freedom National Bank in Harlem in the 1960s, where his wife Rachel served on the Board until it’s closing in 1990.
Prior to his baseball career Jackie Robinson served in the military. On July 6, 1944 Robinson was arrested on a military bus for refusing to move to the back of the bus when ordered to do so by the driver, even though the Army had an unsegregated bus line. The duty officer who was questioning Robinson recommended court-martial for insubordination, but his commander refused to authorize the action. Robinson was then transferred to another battalion where the commander consented to multiple charges that included public intoxication. Robinson did not drink alcohol.
Robinson was acquitted and transferred to Kentucky where he coached for Army Athletics until his honorable discharge in November of 1944; and, then played for the Kansas City Monarch’s in the Negro League in 1945.
Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had created a list of potential black players that he thought might have the courage to join him in shaking up the MLB by being that first black player in the league. He wanted to make sure the person he selected could stand up and take the heat of the racial backlash that would certainly result, so invited Robinson to his office to make his offer on August 28, 1945. Here, they engaged in a (famous) three hour debate during which Robinson asked if Rickey wanted someone brave enough to stand up and fight. Rickey responded by asking if Robinson had the courage not to fight when baited by the racists he would undoubtedly face both on and off the field. Robinson began by playing for Brooklyn’s International League farm club, the Montreal Royals in 1946, moving on to play for the Dodgers in 1947.
Although it was far from easy, Rickey and Robinson both stood strong in the face of racism, hatred, and even death threats from the public. They received racist harassment from players and management on other teams, as well as from some of the players on their own team. One notable moment was when Robinson was being particularly harassed on the field (the word “harass” doesn’t really describe what he faced every day with people screaming words of hate at him), and one of his team mates, Pee Wee Reese, walked over to stand beside him on the field. Reese put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder and stood with him facing the crowd saying (what came to be a famous remark) “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them.” That moment was memorialized on November 1, 2005, by the unveiling of a statue at KeySpan Park, on Coney Island.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was the youngest of five children born January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. His middle name was given to him in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, who died just a few days before he was born. In 1920, Robinson’s mother moved the family to Pasadena, California, after his father left the family.
Jackie Robinson was happily married to his wife Rachel, and together they had three children: Jackie, Jr., Sharon, and David. Rachel began the Jackie Robinson Foundation after her husband’s death (October 24, 1972), and announced in 2010 that she will open a museum in honor of her husband in lower Manhattan.
Jackie Robinson was the first professional athlete to be honored by having his number, 42, retired by Major League Baseball “universally” by all major league teams. On April 15, 2004, the MLB began a new tradition they call “Jackie Robinson Day,” when every player on every team in America wears Robinson’s number 42. Sometime after his death, Robinson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as the Congressional Gold Medal.