February is Black History Month and in honor of the countless pioneers of the civil rights movement, I will publish several tributes to these extraordinary American heroes.
Jack “Jackie” Roosevelt Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball when he stepped out onto the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball diamond for the first time.
Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919. Robinson’s poor and single mother raised him and his five older siblings. He went to John Muir High school and then Pasadena Junior
College where he excelled in football, basketball, and track, but baseball stole his heart.
At Univesity of California, L.A., Robinson became the first man to receive varsity letters in four sports. He moved to Honolulu, Hawaii after dropping out of college due to financial reasons. There, he played semi-professional football for the Honolulu Bears.
World War II began around the time Robinson began playing semi-pro baseball and thus, he wished to serve his country. However, the military kicked him out for a Rosa Parks-like stunt and was honorably discharged.
Robinson started playing for the Negro Leagues, and his talent was apparent. Branch Rickey, the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, wanted Robinson to integrate into Major League Baseball and was assigned to the all-white Montreal Royals. Robinson was off, packing his bags for spring training with the Royals.
Rickey was not an ignorant man and he knew that America would not accept Robinson simply because Rickey wanted them to. With this in mind, Rickey instructed Robinson to be strong and walk away from racism and just play the game.
Fans had a hard time seeing Robinson on the diamond, and his teammates had difficulty playing alongside him.
Biography.com says, “People in the crowds sometimes jeered Robinson, and he and his family received threats.The harassment continued, however, most notably by the Philadelphia Phillies and their manager, Ben Chapman.”
“Many players on opposing teams threatened not to play against the Dodgers. Even his own teammates threatened to sit out. Dodgers manager Leo Durocher informed them that he would sooner trade them than Robinson.”
Although Robinson had haters, Robinson also had those of a different skin color defend him such as League President, Ford Frick, Baseball Commissioner, Happy Chandler, and baseball star, Hank Greenberg.
“While fans harassed Robinson from the stands, Reese walked over and put his arm around his teammate,” Biography.com says.
In 1962, Robinson was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame making him the first African-American to be inducted. Ten years later, Robinson became the first Brooklyn Dodger to have his jersey number retired.
“Robinson helped his team win the World Series of 1955 against the New York Yankees. After baseball, Robinson became active in business and continued his work as an activist for social change. He worked as an executive for the Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee company and restaurant chain.”
On October 24, 1972, Robinson died due to diabetes and heart complications. Soon after, his wife created the Jackie Robinson foundation to help children in poverty and to carry on Robinson’s legacy.