To the public eye Jackie Robinson was just a baseball player who helped desegregate professional sports, though this is not the case. Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was a Decorated American Veteran, Actor, Civil Rights Activist, Professional Baseball player, and an American Hero to the unheard American population. He has been the subject of controversy, and a prime example of fearlessness, his essence showed the power of actions without uttering a single word.
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Although Jackie lead our nation through difficult times through his position as a baseball player, he also deserves to be recognized for his many other great achievements. His presence in professional baseball broke the color barrier, which also led to many other professional sports, organizations, and even the military to desegregate.
Robinson was born in the small town of Cairo, Georgia, but his family moved when he was 6 months old to a predominantly white neighborhood in Pasadena, California after his father had abandon them. This new neighborhood happened to be a more progressive, and a more forward thinking place out of the deep south, which had basically been untouched by the great depression. During this time, Jackie’s mother, Mallie, had worked many odd jobs to support her family. The Robinson family’s arrival to the west coast was met with just as much racism and hatred as would be expected. Mallie, however, was a no nonsense woman who did not antagonize the whites who lived in their neighborhood and had won over the respect of many of them after years of living there. Jackie wrote my mother never lost her composure, as well as the fact that she didn’t allow us to go out of our way to antagonize the whites, and she made it perfectly clear to us and to them that she was not afraid of them and had no intentions of allowing them to mistreat us. This had affected Jackie later in his life as he had to deal with racism as he tried to break the color barrier in America’s favorite pastime.
In his younger years, Robinson attended John Muir High School where he was inspired to take up sports by his older brothers. This is where Robinsons freakish athleticism came into play. During this time Jackie lettered varsity all four years in Baseball, Football, and Basketball as well as track and field, and by the summer of 1935, he had established himself as the most versatile of the muir terriers. (Rampersad 36) After high school Robinson continued his career at Pasadena Junior College where he also played those same sports.
As a young man Robinson was known to be very aggressive and violent against racist individuals. Jackie even got into a rock throwing fight with a middle aged white man over the fact that his daughter called him the N-word, and he reacted by calling her a cracker, which angered her father, and as Rampersad describes in Jackie Robinson: A Biography stones were flying between boy and man until his wife came out to scold him for fighting with a child. (Rampersad 24) In college, his attitude towards these individuals who discriminated him had gotten him into some trouble. Robinson was once arrested for arguing the arrest of a friend by the police. This, along with other run-ins with the law due to their racially charged motives, gave him a reputation of being violent to those who were racist around him. Jackie’s eagerness to talk back to the police became mixed up in legend with the fact of his raw physical power and then became conflated into a habit of brutality when in fact he drew a line early between protest and violence (Rampersad 51). During his time at Pasadena, a preacher convinced him to attend church on a regular basis and to allow God into his life. Around this time Robinson’s brother Frank (who was also the brother he was closest to) was killed in a motorcycle accident which motivated him to enroll at The University of California, Los Angeles to stay closer to his family.
During his time at UCLA Robinson became the schools first athlete to letter in four sports. He also was teammates with Kenny Washington who coincidentally was the first African-American to sign a professional football contract. Robinson also met his wife, Rachel Isum at UCLA in his senior year. Right before graduation Jackie decided to leave UCLA, going against the advice of his mother and girlfriend who wanted him to get his degree. Jackie, however, felt it was useless getting his degree as a black man in America. After playing at UCLA Robinson took a couple jobs with different sports both semi-professionally and professionally. However, in December 1941 after the attacking of Pearl Harbor he was drafted into the United States Military to fight in World War II. During his time in the military Robinson and other African-American soldiers including Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis were very open and vocal about the segregation in the military, protesting their admissions into the Officer Candidate School. Robinson made it to be a second lieutenant. This would be an early example of Jackie’s activism protesting the Civil Rights in America as well as the event that followed. Robinson also got apprehended for refusing to move to the back of the bus when ordered to by a white bus driver, and due to his arrest he never saw any combat and was honorably discharged, however, a friend of his suggested that he try out for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League.
While playing for the Monarchs, Robinson had a great run in the 47 games he played for them, yet he was unhappy with the disorganization of the league and gambling that occurred. He wanted to tryout for a Major League team instead but the last black man to play in a major league game was in 1884 so it seemed far fetched to even think a team would have picked him up. He ended up trying out for the Boston Red Sox with other Negro players but the try out ended up being a ploy to humiliate black players and try to make desegregation seem like a joke. On the other hand, other teams had taken the signing of African Americans much more seriously, such as the Brooklyn Dodgers, whose General Manager, Branch Ricky, had scouted Robinson in his Negro league games. Ricky chose Robinson out of a list of black players and interviewed him. This led to the famous interaction between these two gentlemen where Robinson asked, “Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” and Rickey replies that he needed a negro player with guts enough not to fight back.” After their three-hour long interview Robinson swore an oath to Ricky to look the other way when he was being antagonized, both on, and off of the field.
Robinson played briefly with the minor league affiliate Montreal Dodgers, and then got called up to the Major leagues. During his time in the minors Robinson had faced all kinds of racism everywhere he went, even having police departments calling off games that he would be attending. His reception in Brooklyn was met with a mostly positive welcoming with some racial issues mostly coming from the opposing teams and even his own teammates. Yet, Robinson paid no mind to this as he became a star player, who began winning many awards, such as the first Rookie of the year, and Most Valuable Player, as well as taking the Dodgers to the world series five times in a row, which was the greatest award of them all. Jackie even starred in his own movie The Jackie Robinson Story which rose up to be a great success.
In the end, he played ten seasons and was announced a hall of famer a few years after his retirement. Even then, he wanted to be recognized for the way he played, not only for breaking the color barrier, as he encouraged anyone voting to vote based on his playing rather than focusing on his impact on changing the face of the game. Robinson not only changed baseball through the desegregation of the league but also the sport itself, where instead of just using raw power to hit the baseballs as hard as they could to bring in runs, Jackie’s style and strategy of aggressive base running, such as his famous stealing home to score, was implemented by other teams. He was even dubbed the father of modern day base-stealing by author David Falkner. Robinson was also a remarkable fielder at any position he played. On April 15, 1997, Jackie Robinson’s number, 42, was retired throughout the whole league as a way to commemorate and honor the man who changed the game.
Jackie Robinson’s integration into Major League baseball was so influential that he even began to change the way that his white teammates felt about racism and the segregation laws. Between Jackie’s first season playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the following fall season, most of Jackie’s teammates became accepting of the fact that integration was happening, and Jackie played a huge role in making them change their beliefs. Many of Jackie’s teammates were never necessarily against the idea of integrating America’s favorite pastime, but yet they were not publically supportive of it either and their silence was just as bad, if not worse, than the people against it. This feeling of loneliness continued for Robinson until a game played against the Cincinnati Reds in 1947. Most people recall a very famous event happening at the game on this day, though there is no existing photographs or news articles, of it ever happening. The story claims that when the Brooklyn Dodgers took the field, as usual, nasty slurs were being screamed from the audience directed at Robinson. As no other teammate showed their support, Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese approached Robinson and threw his arm around his shoulder in a form of acceptance. This event isn’t completely proven to be true, but it remains one of the most famous events from its time.
After baseball, Robinson became a very big Civil Rights activist supporting famous leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. as well as participating in marches and protest. Robinson decided to use his baseball career as the foundation for his political movement, and started his work in the Civil Rights movement by speaking out on the slow integration of African Americans into Major League baseball. In 1958, Robinson worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. as honorary chairman of the of the Youth March for Integrated Schools. After his time in the major leagues Jackie Robinson had no trouble speaking his mind as he later became the author of a famous newspaper column in which he spoke about racial and political matters. To add to the insanely long list of contributions that Robinson made to the Civil Rights movement, he also founded a black owned Freedom National Bank in order to assist minorities who were struggling financially by providing them with the necessary loans that they may not have been able to receive otherwise. Robinson also criticized the MLB for the lack of minorities coaching, as well as protested against them by refusing to show up for the old timers game in 1969. The list of Robinson’s accomplishments during his time as a Civil Rights activist is extensive, making him one of the greatest contributions to the movement.
Jackie Robinson’s debut into baseball ended the segregation line in the world of all sports. That being said, his effect was not only felt in sports, as the president of the time, Harry Truman, decided to end segregation in the military as well. Every April 15, every player in the MLB wears the number 42 so that no one is seen differently for the day. Robinson had done in a lifetime what many could never do. Jackie Robinson was an extremely talented and inspiring baseball player, but he was also a real-life superhero to those who faced the tragedies of oppression and discrimination. He saw the world for what it was and never backed down or looked away. He made the public love and accept him not through his words but through his character and actions. He is a legend in every regard of the word and forever will be.
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