Even though I haven’t heard any of my professors mention it, February is Black History Month. In tribute to this celebration, I have decided to revisit the life of Jack Roosevelt Robinson.
Jackie Robinson, the grandson of a slave, was brought up by his single mother in Pasadena, California. He was a star athlete at UCLA in a multitude of sports, including basketball and football.
In 1945, Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers and creator of the Farm Leagues, sent a scout to take a look at Robinson. The scout was impressed and Jackie was invited to Rickey’s office in Brooklyn.
During this historic meeting, Branch Rickey told Robinson that he was planning to integrate baseball. It is true that Rickey was looking for a great baseball player, but he was also looking for a resilient man able to deal with the inevitable difficulties ahead.
Rickey went through every situation he felt Jackie would experience in becoming the first black man to enter baseball’s all white world. He then asked Robinson if he thought he could handle it.
After a long pause, Jackie agreed. He would start up with the Dodgers’ AAA team, the Montreal Royals.
Clay Hopper, the team’s manager, begged Rickey not to put him in charge of an integrated team. He asked Rickey, “Do you really think that a nigger’s a human being?”
In his first game, Jackie Robinson got four hits, including a three run homer, stole two bases and scored twice by provoking the pitcher to balk.
But 1946 was a tough year for Robinson.
During the season he was subject to unequal facilities, taunts from opponents and discrimination from his own teammates.
Through it all, Jackie’s play on the diamond was terrific. That year Robinson’s team went on to win the World Series.
At the end of Robinson’s first professional season on an integrated team, the team manager who had begged Branch Rickey not to let him on the team approached him. Hopper took Jack’s hand and said, “You’re a great ballplayer and a fine gentleman. It’s been wonderful having you on the team.”
On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first black man to take the field in modern baseball history. He would be starting at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Black America was mesmerized.
Now in a more public league, Jackie had to continue knocking down racial barriers. People threatened to shoot him form the stands. He was told his wife and infant son would be murdered if he continued to play. Hotels refused to let him stay with his teammates. He played through it and played well.
Robinson won the first ever Rookie of the Year award, given by The Sporting News. He was opening doors. Finally, baseball could truly call itself the National Pastime. Although he was merely a baseball player to some, the impact he made was felt throughout America.
This was before the N.F.L. and televised games. The Supreme Court still believed separate could be equal. It would take Congress another 18 years before they enacted legislation to protect the black right to vote.
Baseball was a sounding board and when white fans saw a black man amongst their heroes, it may not have been accepted, but it surely set an example.
I’ll leave you to your weekend, but not before sharing my favorite Jackie Robinson quote. He said, “A life is not important, except in the impact it has on other lives.”
Jackie Robinson has truly impacted the lives of human beings everywhere.