Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in1919 and became the first African-American baseball player in Major LeagueBaseball. Jackie was born on January 13, 1919 to a family of sharecroppers. Atless than a year old, Jackie and his family moved to Pasadena, Californiabecause at this point in Jackie’s life, his father had left his family and thetwo never got to know each other. Jackie is the youngest of five children andwas raised in relative poverty by his mother. Growing up relatively poor in awealthy community, Robinson and his friends were excluded from manyrecreational opportunities such as sports and arts programs.
Jackie and hisfamily faced intense discrimination as they were living in a neighborhood wherethey were the only African American family. Jackie had his first encounter withracism at the age of eight. He began to excel in sports and athletics at anearly age as Jackie’s two older brothers Mack and Frank inspired him to pursuean interest. In high school, Jackie went againstand quite often beat his older brother’s records. He led his basketball team in scoring and wasthe quarterback on the schools football team.
In baseball, he was the best inbase stealing and power hitting. At UCLA, he led in track, baseball, basketballand football, and was entered into the UCLA Sports Hall of Fame in 1984. Jackie spent the fall of 1941 playing footballwith the Honolulu Bears. Hisgift of athleticism led him to be known as one of the most successful athletes toattend the University of California Los Angeles.
During his years inuniversity, Jackie met Rachem Isum, a nurse-in-training, and his future wife.Unfortunately, he had to leave UCLA for financial reasons in 1941. At thistime, his year was cut short when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour. Thislead Jackie into joining the Army on April 3, 1942. During his two years in themilitary, Jackie was promoted to the second lieutenant.
However, while riding acivilian bus to Belton, Texas on the way back from camp, he refused after therequest of the bus driver to move to the back of the segregated bus. He wasthen court-martialed and stood trial for seventeen days before he wasacquitted. He accepted an honorable discharge from duty and left the base to gohome to California. This was eleven years before Rosa Parks made the exact sameprotest.
Soon after leaving the Army, Jackie resumed his baseball career as heleft UCLA and returned to baseball as he began playing professional baseballfor the first time. However, he did not enjoy the experience because of thebusy travel schedule as he continued his relationship with his wife Rachem andbecause of the work environment as he was used to playing in a structuredenvironment at UCLA. Robinson’smost known practice was playing baseball which allowed him to become one of themost influential figures in the civil rights movement. This practice continuedto provide a great challenge to his life, as he had to resist the temptation offighting back to the racism he faced. The internal qualities of baseballinclude specific teamwork where the first baseman has to coordinate boththrowing and catching with the pitcher and other teammates including makingbase-runs and home-runs while maintaining the rules of the sport. His practiceon the national stage provided him the opportunity to make an impact byfighting against racism and setting a true example for many to follow. Thepractice of baseball gave Robinson the opportunity to make a true difference inthe world due to the immense popularity of the sport throughout the nation butmost importantly, baseball gave Robinson the opportunity to break the colourbarrier not only in baseball but for many professional sports and also set anexample for many future African-American athletes to follow.
Robinson’smain challenge with racism arose once he began playing with the BrooklynDodgers and broke the colour barrier in Major League Baseball. Branch Rickey,the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, took notice of Robinson as he hadbeen scouting the Negro Leagues for a few months. In 1945, Rickey offeredRobinson a contract to play with the Dodgers organization because he waslooking to sign an African-American player to help win the pennant. Branch toldJackie he would sign him on the premise that he would not let the many racialproblems that he would come to face get to him. At first, he was hesitant andresponded by famously saying, “Are you looking for a negro who is afraid tofight back?” Rickey responded by saying he wanted an African American playerwho could refrain from fighting back. Robinson agreed to this contract and towithstand the racism that may arise as well as rising above the challenges hemay now face.
Thisagreement with Rickey was not an easy one to keep. Robinson faced constanttemptation to respond and struggled to remain silent in regards to the acts ofracism he faced. There were even times where he was not allowed to stay in thesame hotel as the team, which only made his temptation to fight back evenstronger. He was constantly taunted by fans, sent continuous letters and hatemail and had things thrown at him in which he continued to be tempted.
However,the toughest temptation Robinson had to face was responding to the teammateswhich discriminated against him. Some of the teammates of Jackie asked to betraded so they did not have to play on the same team as an African-Americanplayer. He fought through this throughout his entire career, which allowed himto set a standard of excellence for many players to follow. OnApril 15 1947, Robinson was called up to the major leagues to play with theBrooklyn Dodgers and took the field for the first time to famously break thecolour barrier in modern day professional baseball on April 15th. Robinson madehis debut at first base but throughout his career he played several positions.Although Jackie faced all sorts of racial abuse from fans and players, heshowed the courage to hold off and refrain from fighting back which lived up tohis promise and the expectations of Branch Rickey. That year the Dodgers wonthe pennant which was branch Rickey’s wish and Jackie was named Rookie of theYear. Over the course of his career in Major League Baseball, occurring from1947 to 1956, Robinson achieved the following statistics: .
311 batting average,137 home runs, 4877 times at bat, 1518 hits, 734 runs batted in and 197 stolenbases. In October 1949, Robinson won his only NL MVP Award. He was selected tofive more All-Star games and was in the top fifteen for MVP voting fouradditional times. On October 4, 1955, Robinson and the Dodgers won Brooklyn’sonly ever World Series title, which is even more of a reason why Jackie willalways be remembered. In January 1957, Robinson retired from baseball in order tohelp run Chock Full O’Nuts, a coffee company, as vice president. After hisretirement from baseball, Robinson continued to make a difference in the civilrights movement as a chair for the NAACP until 1967. In 1949, Jackie testifiedabout discrimination before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
In1952, he publically claimed that the Yankees are a racist organization for nothaving broken the colour barrier five years after he began playing with theDodgers. Later in life, Robinson continued to lobby for greater integration insports. He was also involved in business and politics in his post-athleticcareer. On June 4, 1972, Robinson was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.Robinson’s number 42 was retired in a ceremony at Dodger Stadium. The number isretired in perpetuity across all teams in the league in tribute to Robinson.
OnOctober 23, 1972, Robinson died of heart related concerns in Stamford,Connecticut. His funeral was widely attended by family, friends and manybaseball fans from across the world. Jesse Jackson delivered the eulogy andsays, “When Jackie took the field, something within us reminded us of ourbirthright to be free.” After Jackie Robinson’s death in 1972, his wifeestablished the Jackie Robinson Foundation dedicated to honoring Jackie’stremendous work and life. JackieRobinson will always be remembered as he broke the colour barrier inprofessional sports and paved a pathway for other African-American athletes. Healso created a pathway to attain racial integration into other aspects ofAmerican life and most American baseball fans realized their wrongdoing.
Everyyear on April 15th, all players and managers throughout the league wearthe number to honor Jackie. This is celebrated across the baseball community asJackie Robinson Day. In the words of JackieRobinson, “But as I write these words now I cannot stand and sing the nationalanthem. I have learned that I remain a black man in a white world.” Whenever wesee ballplayers of a different race, or kids of different colours choosingsides for a game, we owe it to Jackie Robinson, the man who opened the colourbarrier and showed positive character throughout his career.