Jackie Robinson is one of the most important figures of the Civil Rights movement, especially when it came to ending segregation. But his main contribution to securing equal rights for black Americans was done on a baseball field, not in the streets with a picket sign. As the first black athlete to play Major League Baseball, he paved the way for other black athletes to participate in sports with other Americans.
Who Was Jackie Robinson?
Jackie Robinson made history when he first stepped on to the field as a player for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. But his career wasn’t just notable for his being the first black player; he was also an impressive athlete as well.
Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia and was raised with his four siblings by a single mother. He later attended high school in Pasadena, California, where he became interested in sports. He played basketball, track, football, and baseball. He was named Most Valuable Player in baseball in 1938.
He later moved to Hawaii to play football for the Honolulu Bears, a semi-professional team. But his football career was cut short when the United States became involved in World War II.
Robinson served in the United States Army as a second lieutenant from 1942 to 1944. However, he was never sent to the front lines and did not participate in combat.
After his stint overseas, he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, where he was arrested in 1944 because he refused to give his seat to a white person on a segregated bus, much like civil rights activist Rosa Parks. He was later acquitted of the charges.
In 1944, Robinson started his professional baseball career. During this period, the sport was segregated. There were separate leagues for black Americans and white Americans.
However, a couple years later, the leadership of Major League Baseball decided to start integrating its sport. Branch Rickey, the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, led the charge by choosing Robinson to join the Montreal Royals, a farm team for the Dodgers. A farm team is a minor league team from which a major league team will draft players.
Rickey understood that the situation would be tough for Robinson as many players, fans, and managers did not want to integrate baseball. Indeed, he knew that the player would face threats, name calling, and even violence, so he had Robinson promise not to retaliate violently.
Soon after, Robinson was drafted for the Dodgers, and, as Rickey predicted, he had to deal with horrible treatment from his teammates, who did not approve of having a black man on their team. People in the audience constantly jeered at him, calling him names and racial slurs. Some even threw objects at him. Nevertheless, Robinson continued to play, and he became one of the best players in the league.
But despite his superior performance, Robinson continued to be the subject of harassment and racism. Some players on other teams refused to play against the Dodgers. Some of his own teammates threatened to boycott games. However, the Dodger’s management refused to trade him to another team or fire him. Several other white players stepped up to support Robinson.
Robinson played for the Dodgers for about ten years and even helped them win the ultimate victory: the World Series. His bravery led to the inclusion of more black athletes like Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige, and Willie Mays.
Civil Rights Advocacy
After his baseball career, Robinson became active in the Civil Rights movement. He was also heavily involved in politics, especially the Republican Party. He often consulted with President Richard Nixon and the rest of the party, trying to convince them to invest more in black outreach.
Robinson died on October 24, 1972 of a heart attack at the age of 53. Today, he is honored as a Civil Rights icon, a man who stood in the face of racism and adversity and rose to the occasion.