This post on Jackie Robinson is part of our blog series, “Countdown to Black History Month 2013.” Each blog post will cover one significant event or person in black history that we are highlighting as a lead in to Black History Month 2013: At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality. This year is a particularly significant Black History Month as it is both the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation as well as the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
Jackie Robinson was born in Georgia in 1919, the youngest of five children to a family of rural sharecroppers. However, his poor upbringing did not stop him from become the first African-American Major League Baseball (MLB) player of modern times. Robinson is most well known for having “broken the color barrier” in 1947 when he played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie’s talents on the field challenged the basis for segregation head on, contributing to the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement.
Jackie Robinson was considered a great athlete early on in high school, excelling in four sports:
basketball, track, baseball, and football. At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Robinson became the first student in the school’s history to achieve four varsity letters in four different sports. However, before he was able to graduate, Robinson left the university due to financial struggles and moved to Honolulu, Hawaii to play football for a semi-professional team before being drafting into the US Army during the Second World War.
While serving in the Army from 1942 to 1944, Jackie Robinson was arrested and court-martialed during basic training for having refused to sit in the back of the bus where the soldiers of color were placed. Later acquitted of these charges, Robinson’s courage and determination shown during these events would later prove useful in his experience as the leader in desegregating baseball’s highest ranks.
At the end of the war, Jackie Robinson began playing baseball professionally in the segregated Negro league. However, his talent on field was evident when the vice president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, selected him to join his organization. After a brief stint in the minor leagues, Jackie Robinson appeared in a Dodger’s uniform for the first time on April 15, 1947.
Many, including his own teammates, did not welcome his debut. Crowds jeered him, and he and his family received constant death threats. During games, opposing players and managers would shout derogatory terms at him from their dugouts. However, Robinson rose above the prejudice he encountered and showed why he was capable of playing on the team in the first place. In his first year, Jackie Robinson was selected as Rookie of the Year for leading the Dodgers to the National League Pennant with 12 home runs while leading the league in stolen bases. Two years later he was selected as the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) with an exceptional .342 batting average.
Jackie Robinson’s success on the field made him the highest-paid player at the time in the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers. His success and courage on the field also opened up new opportunities for other African-American baseball players such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ernie Banks.
Keep an eye out for upcoming blog posts that are a part of the “Countdown to Black History Month 2013” series. Black History Month provides a significant opportunity for organizations to have conversations around the history and contributions of African Americans. Please visit our Black History Month Page for more information about Black History Month as well as ways to engage your employees or volunteers.