Jackie Robinson was the first Black American to join baseball’s major league in 1947 as a prominent member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson’s belief in equality gave him the chance to bring the message to America and the world that race should not be a consideration for anything.
It’s hard to believe that American sports of the past only allowed white players. Robinson grew up in a poor family in California, but his family always verified that they should have pride and honor in everything they do in life. California didn’t have the same extreme level of prejudice that many of the other states had during that time. Robinson was inspired by his older brother who won a Silver Medal in the Olympics held in Hitler’s Germany, and yet when he returned to the U.S. he could not get any job except as a garbage collector.
Robinson was not used to segregation when he entered the military service and refused to move to the ‘black section’ that the military required of him. He began fighting the system of inequality even during the early areas of his life. When he was going to be court martialed for his actions, the news spread across the country in the NAACP publications and the charges were dropped.
Robinson had always been involved in athletics in high school and then later in college. In 1944 he joined one of the African American baseball leagues, called the “Negro Leagues”. There was a movement within baseball to attempt to integrate the sport and the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, was looking for a potential team member that had honor and integrity and had an excellent background. In 1946 he became a member of the all-white team called the Montreal Royals, which was a branch of the Brooklyn Dodgers. This was a moment in history, as he was the first African American baseball player on a white team.
As a member of the team, Robinson experienced all forms of racial discrimination and even potential violence. People yelled and screamed names at him and threw things at him, but he had made a promise to Rickey to not fight back. The worst situation that occurred was during a Philadelphia Phillies game when the opposing team refused to play with a Black American and even his own team objected. At the time, Leo Durocher, the Dodgers manager told his team that he would rather trade them all than lose Robinson. This set the tone for future baseball games.
Robinson wasn’t just a baseball player, he was an incredibly talented player. The first year with the Dodgers, he hit 12 home runs and the Dodgers won the National League pennant. The same year, Robinson was chosen as the Rookie of the Year and he elevated his playing ability by having a .342 batting average during the season of 1949, was a leader in the most stolen bases and earned the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. He went on his career to have the Dodgers team win the National Pennant quite a few times and the World Series in 1955.
At the root of all of Robinson’s efforts was his continued pursuit to see equality in sports and all facets of American life. Each time Robinson achieved an award or recognition, he included comments about his passion for equality. As his popularity grew, the resistance to having African American players lowered as well. He testified in 1949 before the House Un-American Activities on the topic of discrimination and in 1952 he publicly announced that the Yankees team was a racist organization for not having broken the all-white team with people of color as the Dodgers had five years earlier.
Jackie Robinson retired from baseball in 1957 and continued as a businessman, supporting the Freedom Bank, which was the first African American controlled bank and participated in the NAACP as a board member. In 1962, Robinson was the first Black American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Dodgers retired his number 42 uniform in 1972; the number never to be assigned to anyone else.