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Jackie Robinson

1919-1972

  • First African American player in baseball major leagues
  • His actions resulted in opportunities for other African Americans

 

Jackie Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, the grandson of a slave. Jackie was the youngest of five children. When he was six months old, his father deserted the family. His mother moved them to California where it was easier for blacks to live and get work. In those days, life was very hard for black people in the South. This upset young Jackie. He became very involved in sports. He played football, basketball, baseball and ran track. In college he was a top football player. He left college before graduating.

Jackie worked for the National Youth Administration at a work camp but the camp was closed. In the fall of 1941, he joined the Honolulu Bears professional football team and then was drafted into the Army. While stationed in Kansas with the Army, he worked with Joe Louis, a famous boxer, to fight unfair treatment of black people in the military.

After leaving the Army, Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs. They were a team in the Negro League. This team was made up of African American baseball players. He soon become one of the leagues top players but did like the low pay and constant traveling. He didn't want to make baseball his career. The Brooklyn Dodger president, Branch Rickey, had been looking for a black player to bring into the major leagues. Those leagues were closed to blacks at that time. In 1945, Robinson signed a contract to play for a Dodgers farm team, the Montreal Royals. Many owners and sportswriters were against this. They thought bringing blacks into the league would destroy major league baseball.

At first it was very difficult. During spring training in Florida, Robinson had to ride in the back of the bus and some games were even canceled because he was playing. Even so, he was a great player and when Rickey wanted to move him up to the Dodgers, even though a petition was passed around the players trying to ban him from playing, hardly anyone signed it. Things didn't get any easier though. The St. Louis Cardinals threatened to go on strike. Pitchers often threw the ball directly at Robinson, base runners tried to spike him, and people called him all sorts of bad names. He even received hate mail, death threats, and warnings that his baby boy would be kidnapped. But, gradually, the fans and players realized how good he was at baseball. They started coming just to see him play.

Jackie had agreed to hold his temper back that first year of play but after that, he became angry when people made remarks about being an African American often getting in fights with officials or other players. He became very active in civil rights causes and helped many black players in the league. Jackie continued to play baseball until 1957. At that point, his health was declining and diabetes took away his sight in one eye and reduced his sight in the remaining eye.

After his retirement Robinson became a successful businessman and active supporter of political causes, devoting many of his efforts to the pursuit of a better life for African Americans.

Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. Jackie died on October 24, 1972.

Page created by Brooks Widmaier
January 4, 2002

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