Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in
1919 and became the first African-American baseball player in Major League
Baseball. Jackie was born on January 13, 1919 to a family of sharecroppers. At
less than a year old, Jackie and his family moved to Pasadena, California
because at this point in Jackie’s life, his father had left his family and the
two never got to know each other. Jackie is the youngest of five children and
was raised in relative poverty by his mother. Growing up relatively poor in a
wealthy community, Robinson and his friends were excluded from many
recreational opportunities such as sports and arts programs. Jackie and his
family faced intense discrimination as they were living in a neighborhood where
they were the only African American family. Jackie had his first encounter with
racism at the age of eight. He began to excel in sports and athletics at an
early age as Jackie’s two older brothers Mack and Frank inspired him to pursue
an interest. In high school, Jackie went against
and quite often beat his older brother’s records.  He led his basketball team in scoring and was
the quarterback on the schools football team. In baseball, he was the best in
base stealing and power hitting. At UCLA, he led in track, baseball, basketball
and football, and was entered into the UCLA Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.  Jackie spent the fall of 1941 playing football
with the Honolulu Bears. His
gift of athleticism led him to be known as one of the most successful athletes to
attend the University of California Los Angeles. During his years in
university, Jackie met Rachem Isum, a nurse-in-training, and his future wife.
Unfortunately, he had to leave UCLA for financial reasons in 1941. At this
time, his year was cut short when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour.

 

This
lead Jackie into joining the Army on April 3, 1942. During his two years in the
military, Jackie was promoted to the second lieutenant. However, while riding a
civilian bus to Belton, Texas on the way back from camp, he refused after the
request of the bus driver to move to the back of the segregated bus. He was
then court-martialed and stood trial for seventeen days before he was
acquitted. He accepted an honorable discharge from duty and left the base to go
home to California. This was eleven years before Rosa Parks made the exact same
protest. Soon after leaving the Army, Jackie resumed his baseball career as he
left UCLA and returned to baseball as he began playing professional baseball
for the first time. However, he did not enjoy the experience because of the
busy travel schedule as he continued his relationship with his wife Rachem and
because of the work environment as he was used to playing in a structured
environment at UCLA.

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Robinson’s
most known practice was playing baseball which allowed him to become one of the
most influential figures in the civil rights movement. This practice continued
to provide a great challenge to his life, as he had to resist the temptation of
fighting back to the racism he faced. The internal qualities of baseball
include specific teamwork where the first baseman has to coordinate both
throwing and catching with the pitcher and other teammates including making
base-runs and home-runs while maintaining the rules of the sport. His practice
on the national stage provided him the opportunity to make an impact by
fighting against racism and setting a true example for many to follow. The
practice of baseball gave Robinson the opportunity to make a true difference in
the world due to the immense popularity of the sport throughout the nation but
most importantly, baseball gave Robinson the opportunity to break the colour
barrier not only in baseball but for many professional sports and also set an
example for many future African-American athletes to follow.

 

Robinson’s
main challenge with racism arose once he began playing with the Brooklyn
Dodgers and broke the colour barrier in Major League Baseball. Branch Rickey,
the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, took notice of Robinson as he had
been scouting the Negro Leagues for a few months. In 1945, Rickey offered
Robinson a contract to play with the Dodgers organization because he was
looking to sign an African-American player to help win the pennant. Branch told
Jackie he would sign him on the premise that he would not let the many racial
problems that he would come to face get to him. At first, he was hesitant and
responded by famously saying, “Are you looking for a negro who is afraid to
fight back?” Rickey responded by saying he wanted an African American player
who could refrain from fighting back. Robinson agreed to this contract and to
withstand the racism that may arise as well as rising above the challenges he
may now face. 

 

This
agreement with Rickey was not an easy one to keep. Robinson faced constant
temptation to respond and struggled to remain silent in regards to the acts of
racism he faced. There were even times where he was not allowed to stay in the
same hotel as the team, which only made his temptation to fight back even
stronger. He was constantly taunted by fans, sent continuous letters and hate
mail and had things thrown at him in which he continued to be tempted. However,
the toughest temptation Robinson had to face was responding to the teammates
which discriminated against him. Some of the teammates of Jackie asked to be
traded so they did not have to play on the same team as an African-American
player. He fought through this throughout his entire career, which allowed him
to set a standard of excellence for many players to follow.

 

On
April 15 1947, Robinson was called up to the major leagues to play with the
Brooklyn Dodgers and took the field for the first time to famously break the
colour barrier in modern day professional baseball on April 15th. Robinson made
his debut at first base but throughout his career he played several positions.
Although Jackie faced all sorts of racial abuse from fans and players, he
showed the courage to hold off and refrain from fighting back which lived up to
his promise and the expectations of Branch Rickey. That year the Dodgers won
the pennant which was branch Rickey’s wish and Jackie was named Rookie of the
Year. Over the course of his career in Major League Baseball, occurring from
1947 to 1956, Robinson achieved the following statistics: .311 batting average,
137 home runs, 4877 times at bat, 1518 hits, 734 runs batted in and 197 stolen
bases. In October 1949, Robinson won his only NL MVP Award. He was selected to
five more All-Star games and was in the top fifteen for MVP voting four
additional times. On October 4, 1955, Robinson and the Dodgers won Brooklyn’s
only ever World Series title, which is even more of a reason why Jackie will
always be remembered. In January 1957, Robinson retired from baseball in order to
help run Chock Full O’Nuts, a coffee company, as vice president. After his
retirement from baseball, Robinson continued to make a difference in the civil
rights movement as a chair for the NAACP until 1967. In 1949, Jackie testified
about discrimination before the House Un-American Activities Committee. In
1952, he publically claimed that the Yankees are a racist organization for not
having broken the colour barrier five years after he began playing with the
Dodgers. Later in life, Robinson continued to lobby for greater integration in
sports. He was also involved in business and politics in his post-athletic
career. On June 4, 1972, Robinson was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Robinson’s number 42 was retired in a ceremony at Dodger Stadium. The number is
retired in perpetuity across all teams in the league in tribute to Robinson. On
October 23, 1972, Robinson died of heart related concerns in Stamford,
Connecticut. His funeral was widely attended by family, friends and many
baseball fans from across the world. Jesse Jackson delivered the eulogy and
says, “When Jackie took the field, something within us reminded us of our
birthright to be free.” After Jackie Robinson’s death in 1972, his wife
established the Jackie Robinson Foundation dedicated to honoring Jackie’s
tremendous work and life.

 

Jackie
Robinson will always be remembered as he broke the colour barrier in
professional sports and paved a pathway for other African-American athletes. He
also created a pathway to attain racial integration into other aspects of
American life and most American baseball fans realized their wrongdoing. Every
year on April 15th, all players and managers throughout the league wear
the number to honor Jackie. This is celebrated across the baseball community as
Jackie Robinson Day. In the words of Jackie
Robinson, “But as I write these words now I cannot stand and sing the national
anthem. I have learned that I remain a black man in a white world.” Whenever we
see ballplayers of a different race, or kids of different colours choosing
sides for a game, we owe it to Jackie Robinson, the man who opened the colour
barrier and showed positive character throughout his career.