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Jackie Robinson was the first African-American baseball player to participate in Major League Baseball in the United States. He played professionally for the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke down the color barrier in baseball. Major League Baseball commemorates Jackie Robinson every year on April 15, Jackie Robinson Day.

Youth and Education

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia on January 31, 1919, to a sharecropping family. Jerry Robinson and Mallie McGriff bore four children before him, including Edgar, Matthew, Frank, and Willa Mae. In 1920, Jerry Robinson left the family and they moved to Pasadena, California.

Robinson’s mother worked odd jobs, but the family remained extremely poor, and Jackie briefly joined a gang.[1] He studied at John Muir High School, where played several varsity level sports and lettered in four. He also played on the Pomona All-Star Baseball team in 1936 with the likes of Bob Lemon and Ted Williams.[2]

Jackie Robinson identified racism from a young age and refused to accept it as normal.

Jackie Robinson continued to pursue sports at Pasadena Junior College. He played on the All-Southland Junior College Baseball Team as their Most Valuable Player in 1938. On January 25, 1938, police arrested Robinson when he protested the unnecessary detention of one of his African-American friends. After his brother Frank died, he transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to be near Frank’s family.[3]

In 1939, Robinson enrolled at UCLA where he became the first student athlete to earn varsity letters in track, basketball, football, and baseball. He and three other black students played on the football team, making UCLA the most integrated college football team. Jackie Robinson won the long jump at the NCAA Men’s Track and Field Championships in 1940 and did not perform as well in baseball, documented by his stats, as the other sports.

Jackie Robinson met Rachel Isum, his future wife, at UCLA. In 1941, Robinson abandoned college just before graduation to work at the National Youth Administration’s assistant athletic director in Atascadero, California. That Fall, he played semi-professionally for the football team, the Honolulu Bears, and then the Los Angeles Bulldogs.[4]

Military Service

The draft caught Jackie Robinson in 1942, and the Army assigned him to Fort Riley, Kansas’s calvary unit. Robinson applied and entered into the Officer Candidate School after a brief delay due to his race. In January 1943, he graduated to become a second lieutenant and proposed to Rachel. The army assigned him to the 761st “Black Panthers” Tank Battalion at Ford Hood, Texas.

On July 6, 1944, Robinson entered an Army bus and the driver demanded Robinson sit in the back even though the bus was unsegregated. He refused and the driver summoned the military police who arrested Robinson. Robinson brought up the racist implications during the investigation into the incident and the officer recommended he be court-martialed, but his commanding officer refused. The Army transferred him to another battalion with a commanding officer willing to charge him with false offenses.

Robinson was court-martialed in August 1944, but acquitted by nine, white officers. This prevented him from every seeing combat. He transferred to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky as an army athletics coach until his November 1944 honorable discharge. [5]

Jackie Robinson’s Baseball Biography

The Negro League and The Minor League

Jackie Robinson first accepted a professional baseball contract in 1945 with the Kansas City Monarchs, part of the Negro League, for $400/month. He played shortstop in 47 games, with five home runs and 13 bases stolen. He also participated in the Negro League All-Star Game in 1945.[6]

On August 28, 1945, Branch Rickey offered Robinson a spot on the Montreal Royals if Robinson had “guts enough not to fight back” against the inevitable racial tension that would follow. The following year, Robinson joined the Montreal Royals for spring training in Daytona Beach, Florida. The Royals faced issues trying to play with Robinson on the team and it was not until March 17, 1946, that the Royals secured a game for him to make his debut.

On April 18, 1946, Robinson joined the Royals for the season opener against the Jersey City Giants and succeeded in making four hits, four runs, three drives, and two bases stolen. Jackie Robinson’s stats in the International League were a .985 fielding percentage and .349 batting average and he was voted the Most Valuable Player in the league.[7]

The Major League

If not for the great support by the Brooklyn Dodgers and their manager, Jackie Robinson may never have had the opportunity to play in the Major League.

On April 15, 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers debuted Jackie Robinson at Ebbets Field and he became the first player in almost 50 years to break the unspoken color barrier in the Major League. When some of his white teammates protested his position, manager Leo Durocher threatened to trade any player who did not accept Robinson.

Jackie Robinson faced severe racial prejudice and harassment from other MLB teams, including one incident on April 22, 1947, when the Philadelphia Phillies manager and the team called him a “nigger” across the field. After his first season, Robinson batted .297 and scored 175 hits. He won the year’s Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year Award.

The National League named him their MVP in 1949 after he led the league with a .342 batting average and 37 steals. The Dodgers won six World Series in the 10 seasons that Robinson played with them.[8]

Later Life, Family, and Death

On January 5, 1957, Jackie Robinson retired from baseball. A few months later, he was diagnosed with diabetes and the disease broke down his body. In 1962, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted him during his first year of eligibility. ABC Broadcasting hired him as the first African-American analyst for their Major League Baseball Game of the Week programs in 1965. [9]

The Dodgers retired his team uniform number, 42, on June 4, 1972. He served as Chock full o’Nuts’ vice president of personnel between 1957 and 1964, as the first black vice president in a U.S. corporation. In 1957, Robinson chaired the Freedom Fund Drive for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and served on the board till 1967. He co-founded the Freedom National Bank in 1964 and the Jackie Robinson Construction Company in 1970 to build housing for poor families.

Jackie’s wife, Rachel, served on the board of the Freedom National Bank with him. They produced three children during their marriage, Jackie, Jr. (1946), Sharon (1950), and David (1952). On June 17, 1971, Jackie, Jr., died in a car crash after suffering drug abuse issues, turning his father into an anti-drug campaigner.

On October 24, 1972, Jackie Robinson died of a heart attack in North Stamford, California. His funeral took place on October 27 and he is buried in Brooklyn, New York’s Cypress Hills Cemetery.[10] The U.S. Major Baseball League honors his memory on April 15 every year on Jackie Robinson Day.[11]


References

Bibliography


Rampersad, A. (1997). Jackie Robinson: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


Robinson, J., & Duckett, A. (2003). I Never Had It Made: The Autobiography of Jackie Robinson. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Robinson, R. (1998). Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait. New York: Harry N. Abrams.


Footnotes

  1. Rampersad, 1997
  2. Robinson & Duckett, 2003
  3. Rampersad, 1997
  4. Robinson & Duckett, 2003
  5. Robinson & Duckett, 2003
  6. Rampersad, 1997
  7. Robinson & Duckett, 2003
  8. Robinson & Duckett, 2003
  9. Rampersad, 1997
  10. Robinson, 1998
  11. MLB Advanced Media. (2016). Jackie Robinson Day. MLBcommunity.org.[1]

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