Jackie Robinson, born Jack Roosevelt Robinson, is known for being the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball. He was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia as the grandson of a slave. He was the youngest of five children and at six months old his father left them. At this time, because it was so hard for African-Americans in the south, his mother Mallie Robinson decided to move them to Pasadena, California where it was easier for African-Americans to live and find jobs.
At this time Jackie was very into sports so this move made him pretty upset. He played baseball, basketball, football, and ran track while attending the University of California, Los Angeles. He was one of the top players on the football team as well as the only athlete to letter in four different sports. Unfortunately, Jackie left college before getting a chance to graduate due to financial problems but not before meeting his future wife Rachel. After his departure from UCLA he began working for the National Youth Administration at a work camp but it soon closed down and in 1941 he joined the Honolulu Bears, a professional football team in Honolulu, Hawaii.
He was then drafted into the U.S. Army where he was refused admission to the Officer Candidate School. He fought this until he was finally accepted and graduated as a first lieutenant. He was in the Army from 1941 until 1944 and was stationed in Kansas and Fort Hood, Texas. While stationed in Kansas he worked with a boxer named Joe Louis
in order to fight unfair treatment towards African-Americans in the military and when training in Fort Hood, Texas he refused to go to the back of the public bus and was court-martialed for insubordination. Because of this he never made it to Europe with his unit and in 1944 he received an honorable discharge.
After his departure from the Army he joined the Kansas City Monarchs, an all African-American baseball team
, of the Negro League. Due to low pay and constant traveling, he decided he did not want to make baseball a career although he was one of the top players. Until 1947 only white players were allowed in Major League Baseball but in 1945 Clyde Sukeforth, a scout for Branch Rickey who was the Brooklyn Dodgers club president, had been looking for an African-American player and was watching Jackie for a while. Rickey signed Jackie to play for the Dodger's minor league team named the Montreal Royals. Jackie was emotionally tired but he enjoyed and appreciated all the support from the fans in this Canadian city because it was so different from the verbal abuse he had before experienced.
was 27 years old with an extremely bad temper when he finally began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Rickey went to Jackie with an agreement. He simply asked him to try to control his temper for the first few years and he even called him bad names in which he knew would be yelled Jackie's way in order for him understand the kind of abuse he would be facing. With that, Jackie Robinson agreed and this was the beginning of a very big change in baseball history.
Jackie played his first game on April 15, 1947 playing first base. He played first base for his entire rookie year but most of his career was spent playing second base. There were many games where he also played third base and outfield. Jackie had so far kept his agreement with Rickey until during a game the umpire said to him, "go back to the jungle you little nigger!" when this caused him to punch the umpire in the face. After this incident many of the Dodger players felt uncomfortable playing with Jackie and told Dodger management that they would rather strike then play with a black man like Jackie. This madness ended once management told the players that if they truly felt that way they were more than welcome to look for jobs elsewhere.
Jackie became close friends with fellow teammate Pee Wee Reese. In a game with Cincinnati, the players started yelling things to Jackie and then to Pee Wee. Pee Wee heard one of the players yell, "How can you play with this nigger?" so Pee Wee walked over to Jackie who was standing at first base, smiled and put his arm around him. The two then became known as a defensive team but of course the harassment did not stop there.
Both players and fans continued to verbally harass him. Some pitchers threw balls at him; sometimes even at his head; baserunners attempted to cut him with their cleats. One team in particular, the Philadelphia Phillies, were extremely abusive with the support of their manager Ben Chapman. When the Dodgers played the Phillies on April 22nd, the Phillies players continuously yelled at Jackie making upsetting remarks at him. It was not long after that Baseball Commissioner, A. B. "Happy" Chandler I, admonished the Phillies and asked Jackie to pose for a picture with Chapman. He thought it would make good publicity. Although neither Jackie nor Chapman refused, it was something neither of the two truly wanted to do.
Jackie made the Major League Baseball minimum salary of $5,000 his rookie year. It is to be said that he played 151 games, hit .297, was the league leader of stolen bases with a total of 29 and nine times stealing home base. He was awarded Rookie of the Year and in 1949 was awarded by the National League as Most Valuable Player and batting leader with a .342.
In 1955 Jackie was on the downside of his career but it was during his prime that he had finally became respected as a player. He had led the Dodgers to their first World Series in 1947 with 5 following short after. His Major League career was very short considering he entered the Major League at age 27. This was difficult because as he aged he became easily injured. After the 1956 season, Jackie was sold to the New York Giants which not long after became the Los Angeles Giants.
Unfortunately Jackie felt that it was time for him to retire so on January 5,1957 at the age of 37 he did. He wanted to either manage or coach a team but he didn't receive any offers so instead he became a businessman and the Vice-President of the Chock Full O' Nuts corporation. In the 1960 election he contributed to the presidential campaign for Herbert Humphrey. He also met Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. He supported Nixon during the election but after Nixon was elected in 1968 he claimed to have regretted it. He also served on the board of the NAACP until 1967 and only resigned because of the small amount of younger influence on the board. In 1962 Jackie Robinson was initiated into the Hall of Fame but it wasn't until June 4,1972 that #42, Jackie's uniform number, was officially retired. On October 14, 1972 before game 2 of the World Series, Jackie made his final public appearance.
Jackie's last few years were difficult. His oldest son Jackie Jr, who had fought a drug problem, was killed in a car accident. Jackie also severe case of diabetes and it caused him to lose sight in one of his eyes. It also contributed to many of his heart problems. On October 24, 1972 Jackie Robinson was announced dead in Stamford, Connecticut. He was buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. After his burial the highway that goes through the cemetery, which was then called the Interborough Parkway, was renamed Jackie Robinson Parkway.
In 1997 Major League Baseball retired the #42 from all their teams. In 2000 he was listed number 44 on The Sporting News list of the top 100 baseball players. He was also elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century team. In 2004, Major League Baseball declared April 15 "Jackie Robinson Day" in all their ballparks. On October 29,2003 the United States Congress awarded Jackie Robinson with the Congressional Gold Medal which is the highest award to be given by the Congress. Unfortunately, because Jackie was deceased by this time he was unable to accept it himself so his widow Rachel Robinson accepted it on his behalf in a ceremony on March 2, 2005.
As you can see although Jackie Robinson had deceased in 1972, he has continued to be remembered, appreciated and respected. He is remembered for an amazing amount of achievements he had accomplished during his time. Being the first African-American player in the Major Leagues was just the beginning of a new era. He had made a way for all colored players.