Jackie Robinson, the first African-American in Baseball, transformed the face of American sports forever. Not only was he an outstanding athlete, but with the help of Branch Ricky, owner of Brooklyn Dodgers, they worked for reforms in the sports community. April 15, 1947 is the day that one of the most important events in American history took place. On that day, Jackie Robinson took the final step in making the biggest breakthrough in sports history, it was the day that Jackie Robinson played his first Major League Baseball game, which was also the first game of any kind in organized athletics in which a white man shared the field with an African-American. Jackie Robinson was born on January 31,1919 in Cairo, Georgia, in the heart of the segregated south, the grandson of a slave and the son of a sharecop farmer. Robinson’s father abandoned the family when Jackie was an infant, and forced his mother and four older siblings to join the “great migration” of the time, and move to California(Tygiel,1). Upon graduating high school, Jackie went to UCLA, where he maintained a straght A average, while playing 4 sports(baseball, basketball, football, and track) and earning a good amount of varsity letters.
With the outbreak of World War II, Jackie was drafted and assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas where he faced racial discrimination on a daily basis. In The Jackie Robinson Reader by Jules Tygiel he states that “He was barred from Officer’s Candidate School, blocked from playing on the camp baseball team, and restricted to segregated facilities. Robinson, however, applied both his aggresiveness and celebrity to demand better treatment. He rose to the rank of lieutenant and waged a campaign to improve conditions for black soliers at Fort Riley. After his transfer to Fort Hood in Texas, Robinson refused to move to the back of a military bus and defied the officers who attempted to discipline him, resulting in a court martial that have led to dishonorable discharge”(3). He was later acquitted of these charges but this episode intensified Robinson’s commitment to racial justice. He always stood up for himself and what he believed it, even when society was telling him otherwise. Who would of thought this man would change American sports and society forever? In the spring of 1945 Robinson decided to join the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues, although he considered it a step down rather than a step up.
During this time, Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had decided to bring blacks into the major leagues and assigned his top scouts to evaluate the Negro League. Robinson quickly gained a lot of respect for his skill and the way he played the game, and was held in high regards by the scouts. This earned him an invitaion to Branch Rickey’s office. Time’s Great People of the 20th Century descibes this event in detail. ” ‘Suppose they throw at your head?’ Rickey demanded, ‘Suppose a white player sneers, get out of my way you dirty black bastard. What do you do then? Can you walk away from him?’ Robinson looked puzzled. ‘Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?’ ‘On the contrary, I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back. They’ll taunt you, goad you, anything to make you fight. Anything to bring about a race riot in the ballpark. If they succeed, they’ll be able to prove that having a Negro in baseball doesn’t work”(104). In Heroes & Icons by Henry Aaron, he offers the meaning of this event.
“When Branch Rickey first met with Jackie about joining the Dodgers, he told him that for three years he would have to turn the other cheek and silently suffer all the vile things that would come his way. Believe me, it wasn’t Jackie’s nature to do that. He was a fighter, the proudest and most competitive person I’ve ever seen”(Aaron). Robinson quickly agreed, knowing the magnitude of the challenge that was awaiting him. Robinson later described the toughest task of his career was learning to “conquer and control himself”(Time,104). By doing so, he opened the door for future African-Americans to play organized athletics and now more than half of all athletes in major and professional sports are African-Americans.
Jackie Robinson has influenced the lives of many people facing adversity. He has been an inspiration to many across the world. Jackie Robinson forever changed the landscape of American sports by breaking the color barrier. By breaking through the baseball color barrier, Jackie Robinson has become a hero to many people and opened the doors for African- Americans politically, socially, and economically.
1. The Jackie Robinson Reader, Jules Tygiel, The Penguin Group, 1977 2. Great People of the 20th Century, The Editor’s of Time, Time Inc. Home Entertainment 1996 3. Heroes & Icons: Jackie Robinson, Henry Aaron, http://www.time.com/time/time100/heroes/profile/robinson01.html