Jackie Robinson

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(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Robinson was the first black to play in the major leagues and as such is known for breaking the “color line” in baseball. A hero for his brilliant career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Early Life

Jack Roosevelt, or Jackie (as he was known throughout his adult life), Robinson was the fifth child born to Mallie and Jerry Robinson, share-croppers of Cairo, Georgia. Robinson’s grandparents had been slaves. When he was six months old, his father abandoned the family, and a year later his mother took the family to Pasadena, California, where Robinson grew up. Although poor, Robinson’s mother saved money and ultimately purchased a house in a previously all-white neighborhood. This was Robinson’s first experience as a pioneer in integration. As a child, Robinson excelled in all sports. In high school, junior college, and at the University of California at Los Angeles, Robinson starred in baseball, basketball, football, and track. In 1938, at Pasadena Junior College, he broke the national junior college record for the broad jump, previously set by his older brother, Mack Robinson, who himself had won a silver medal at the 1936 Olympics. In 1939, he entered UCLA, where he became the school’s first letterman in four sports. Robinson’s best sport was football; in 1941, he was named an All-American. That year, he dropped out of college to earn money for his family.

In 1941, Robinson played professional football with the Honolulu Bears. Drafted in 1942, Robinson applied for Officer’s Candidate School at Fort Riley, Kansas. Although admitted to the program, Robinson and the other black candidates received no training until pressure from Washington forced the local commander to admit blacks to the base’s training school. Robinson’s reputation as a sports hero helped to generate that pressure. As a second lieutenant, Robinson successfully challenged some of the Jim Crow policies at the base post exchange. He quit the base football team in protest when the army agreed to keep him out of a game with the nearby University of Missouri, because that school refused to play against black opponents. Transferred to Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson protested segregation on an army bus. His protests led to a court-martial, at which he was acquitted. In November, 1944, he was honorably discharged. The army had little desire to keep this black man who kept fighting against racism, and for his part, Robinson was, as he later wrote in his autobiography, “pretty much fed up with the service.”

Life’s Work

Out of the army, Robinson secured a tryout with the Kansas City Monarchs, a leading team in the segregated “Negro leagues.” He was quickly offered four hundred dollars a month. In August, 1945, while playing for the Monarchs, Robinson was approached by a scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Dodger president Branch Rickey was publicly calling for a new black baseball league, with a team to be called the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers. Rickey wanted Robinson for the team and asked him to come to Brooklyn for a meeting.

Robinson traveled to Brooklyn to meet Rickey. The twenty-six-year-old Robinson was just under six feet tall and weighed 195 pounds. He was handsome, agile, and a natural athlete of almost limitless potential. He was also intelligent and articulate and one of the best-educated black baseball players in the United States. He had grown up in an integrated world and played on integrated teams in high school and college. He was the perfect candidate for Rickey’s great experiment: the integration of the major leagues.

The meeting between Robinson and Rickey is a classic in American sports. Robinson expected to talk about a new black baseball team. Instead, Rickey asked him if he had a girlfriend, and on hearing about his college sweetheart, Rachel Isum, Rickey told him to marry her. Robinson was puzzled. Rickey continued the conversation, asking Robinson if he knew why he was there....

(The entire section is 2,765 words.)