Robinson, Jackie 1919–1972

views updated May 18 2018

Jackie Robinson 19191972

Professional baseball player

Competitive Drive Was Key Factor in Selection for Major Leagues

Playing Skills Flourished Despite Racial Abuse

Active Supporter of Black Causes

Stimulated Black Business Opportunities

Chronic Health Problems Took Their Toll


Jackie Robinson may have had more influence on the integration of sports than any other athlete in history. When he began playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, he broke the color line in professional baseball and paved the way for the entry of black players into all professional sports. Monte Irvin, a black baseball player who came into the major leagues soon after Robinson, was quoted in The New York Times Book of Sports Legends as saying, Jackie Robinson opened the door of baseball to all men. He was the first to get the opportunity, but if he had not done such a great job, the path would have been so much more difficult.

The grandson of a slave, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was the youngest of five children and spent his early years in Georgia. After his father deserted the family when Jackie was six months old, his mother, Mallie Robinson, moved the family to California in search of work. California also subjected blacks to segregation at that time, but to less of a degree than in the deep South. The young Jackie defused his anger over this prejudice by immersing himself in sports. He displayed extraordinary athletic skills in high school, excelling at football, basketball, baseball, and track. After helping Pasadena Junior College win the Junior College Football Championship, Robinson took his athletic prowess to the University of California at Los Angeles and became a top collegiate running back in 1939.

Robinson left college before graduating, having used up his athletic eligibility. Then he held a job with the National Youth Administration work camp until the camp was closed due to the onset of World War II. In the fall of 1941 he joined the Honolulu Bears professional football team, then was drafted onto a new team in 1942the U.S. Army. While stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas with heavyweight champion Joe Louis, Robinson worked with Louis to eradicate unfair treatment of blacks in the military, but inequities would persist in the armed forces for decades to come. Robinson was discharged from the army in 1945 because his ankles had been weakened playing football.

Competitive Drive Was Key Factor in Selection for Major Leagues

Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League in 1945 for a reported $400 a month. Although he soon became one of the leagues top players, he was not fond of the low pay and relentless traveling and apparently

At a Glance

Born jack Roosevelt Robinson, January 31, 1919, in Cairo, GA; died of a heart attack, October 24, 1972, in Stamford, CT; son of Jerry (a plantation laborer) and Mallie Robinson (a housekeeper); married Rachel Issum (a psychiatric nurse and educator), February 10, 1946; children: Jackie, Jr. (died, 1971), Sharon, David. Education: Attended Pasadena Junior College, 1938-39, and University of California at Los Angeles, 1939-41.

First black player in major league baseball. Played football with Honolulu Bears, 1941; played on Kansas City Monarchs baseball team, Negro National League, 1945; signed with Montreal Royals, late 1945; professional baseball player with the Brooklyn Dodgers, 1947-56. Had career batting average of .311 with the Dodgers; compiled .333 batting average as National League All-Star; helped Dodgers win six National League pennants and one World Series.

Served as executive for Chock Full ONuts restaurant chain, and insurance, food-franchising, and interracial construction firms, beginning in late-1950s. chairman of the board of Freedom National Bank in Harlem; member of the New York State Athletic Commission. Author of autobiography I Never Had It Made, 1972. Military service: Served in U.S. Army, 1942-45; became first lieutenant.

Awards: National junior college record in long jump; first student at UCLA to earn four varsity letters in one year; leading ground gainer in college football, 1939; International League Batting Title, 1946; voted National League Rookie of the Year, 1947; led league in stolen bases, 1947 and 1949; National League MVP, 1949; National League Batting Title, 1949; made National League All-Star Team, 1949-54; NAACP Spingarn Medal, 1956; elected to Baseball Hall of Fame, 1962.

had no intention of making baseball a career. That attitude was changed due to the efforts of Brooklyn Dodger president Branch Rickey. Starting in 1943, Rickey had been searching for a black player to bring into the major leagues, which were closed to blacks at the time. Dodger owner Walter OMalley stated in Harvey Frommers book Rickey & Robinson: Branch wanted Jackie because he knew Jackie had absolutely fierce pride and determination.

On October 23, 1945, Robinson signed a contract with Rickey to play for one of the Dodgers farm teams, the Montreal Royals in the International League. Many owners and sportswriters were against this integration, claiming that it would destroy major league baseball, but both Rickey and Robinson were confident of the move. According to Frommer, Robinson said, I think I am the right man to pick for this test. There is no possible chance that I will flunk it or quit before the end for any other reason than that I am not a good enough ballplayer.

Spring training in Florida was rough for Robinson due to segregation laws. He was forced to ride in the back of buses, and some games in which he was scheduled to play were canceled due to his presence. Nevertheless, he proved his worth that season by leading the Royals to the championship in the Little World Series. His performance made it clear that he was ready for the major leagues, but not all of the Dodgers were supportive of moving Robinson up to the big time. Some players on the team circulated a petition saying that they wouldnt play with Robinson, but hardly anyone signed it. When Rickey brought Robinson up to the Dodgers, he made the player promise to rein in his temper when he was subjected to racial taunts on the playing field, at least for the first year. Robinson reluctantly agreed, but once a star he allowed his pride to resurface during disputes that were racially tinged.

Playing Skills Flourished Despite Racial Abuse

Robinsons arrival on the major-league scene in 1947 prompted a slew of racially motivated actions. The St. Louis Cardinals threatened to go on strike, then backed down when National League president Ford Frick threatened to ban all strikers from professional baseball. Pitchers often threw the ball directly at Robinson, base runners tried to spike him, and he was subjected to a steady stream of racial insults. He received hate mail, death threats, and even warnings that his baby boy would be kidnapped. Through it all, though, Robinson held his tongue in deference to Rickeys wishes. As the much-maligned player stated in his autobiography I Never Had It Made, I never cared about acceptance as much as I cared about respect.

Robinson let his playing do the talking, and before long he was known as one of the most exciting players in baseball. Soon fans both black and white were filling ballparks to see him in action, and the Dodgers set new attendance records. Most of his fellow teammates fully supported him as they became convinced of Robinsons value to the club. Despite the adversity he faced, Robinson led the league in stolen bases and was named Rookie of the Year.

By the end of the following season, Robinson was no longer willing to hold his temper in check. He would often get into shouting matches with opponents, as well as umpires. His playing kept improving, reaching a peak in 1949 when his exploits earned him a batting title and the Most Valuable Player award. By this time Robinson was famous throughout the world. He had a string of six consecutive seasons batting over .300 and became renowned for his daring steals of home. His success had opened the door to a string of other great black players such as Monte Irvin, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Junior Gilliam. In 1950 Robinson was paid an annual salary of $35,000, tops in Dodger history, and a movie about his life opened in theaters.

Active Supporter of Black Causes

As his fame grew, Robinson became more fervent in his protests against racist attitudes, and he offered more support for civil rights causes. His status on the team, however, changed in the 1951 season due to Rickey being replaced as president of the Dodgers by Walter OMalley. A tremendous admirer of Rickey, Robinson was greatly disappointed by the changing of the guard, especially since OMalley was less tolerant than Rickey of his speaking out on racial issues. Nevertheless, Robinson continued offering support for black causes and advice to black players in particular, including those on opposing teams.

Robinsons glory years as a player were coming to an end by the mid-1950s. He had developed a bad relationship with manager Walter Alston, and his average fell to .256 in 1955 during an injury-plagued season. After being sold in December of 1956 to the New York Giants, Robinson announced his retirement in the January 1957 issue of Look magazine. In the article, Robinson claimed that his body had passed its prime and could no longer perform at the major league level. He finished with a .311 career average and 19 career steals of homethe most by any player in the post-World War II era. Soon after his playing days were over, Robinsons health declined dramatically. He had to begin receiving insulin shots for diabetes and at one point went into a diabetic coma. In his later years the diabetic condition would take away his sight in one eye and significantly reduce his sight in the other.

Stimulated Black Business Opportunities

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. He became a vice president in the Chock Full ONuts restaurant chain, whose restaurants employed many blacks. He also worked with the Harlem YMCA in New York City and was made chairman of the board of the Freedom National Bank, a project in black capitalism. He later became the head of a construction company that built housing for black families and was involved in other ventures that stimulated black participation in business. Refusing to compromise his values, Robinson rejected an offer of membership in a private golf club when he learned that some members had objected to accepting an African American member. Despite his fame, he pursued his golf game at public courses.

In the political arena, Robinson campaigned for Senator Hubert Humphreys bid for nomination on the Democratic presidential ticket in 1960. Then, despite objections from fellow Democrats, he switched parties to work for Richard Nixon in the presidential campaign because he felt that Nixon had helped support civil rights causes. Continuing to plot his own course, Robinson resigned his position as special assistant for community affairs on Republican Governor Nelson Rockefellers staff in 1968 to once against campaign for presidential-hopeful Hubert Humphrey.

Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility. Even then he was surrounded by controversy, as fellow electee Bob Feller said that he didnt want to enter the Hall at the same time as Robinson. At his induction, Robinson called up three people from the audience to stand with him as he accepted the honor: his mother, his wife, and Branch Rickey. Robinsons respect and admiration for Rickey had never waned. He knew how important Rickey had been at helping blacks enter mainstream sports in the United States. When Rickey died in 1965, Robinson complained about the low number of blacks who had come to the funeral. According to The New York Times Book of Sport Legends, Robinson said, I considered Mr. Rickey the greatest human being I had ever known.

Perhaps the cruelest blow to Robinson occurred in 1971, when his son, Jackie Jr., died in a car accident. Three years earlier, the younger Robinson had been arrested for heroin possession due to an addiction he had developedand later kickedafter being wounded in Vietnam. Jackie Sr. remained active in national campaigns against drug addiction right up to his own death.

Chronic Health Problems Took Their Toll

By the early 1970s Robinson was still pressing for more integration in sports, and most of all wanted to see a black manager in professional baseball. (In 1974 Frank Robinson became the first black major league manager, taking over the reins of the Cleveland Indians.) Robinson was specially honored in 1972, when he was asked to throw out the ball to open the second game of the 75th World Series at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Although still in his early 50s, Robinson was in shaky physical health by this time. He had survived one heart attack, and his body had suffered from years of diabetes and high blood pressure. Less than two weeks after his ceremonial toss at the World Series, he collapsed at his home in Connecticut and died later that day. His funeral at Riverside Church in New York City attracted more than 2,500 people, including many celebrities and political dignitaries. Thousands lined the streets as Robinsons body was taken to Brooklyn for burial.

Jackie Robinson always went his own way, answering to his own instincts and refusing to be swayed by those who objected to his choices. He never took for granted his role as a trailblazer in the integration of sports and the opening of opportunities for blacks in the United States. As Frommer wrote, Just as Robinson had placed his stamp on baseball, his historic role in baseball had stamped him. By being a man with incredible physical skills, mental fortitude, and competitive fire who arrived in the right place and at the right time in history, Robinson had a major impact on the black struggle for equality in the twentieth century.



Connor, Anthony J., Baseball for the Love of It: Hall of Famers Tell It Like It Was, Macmillan, 1982, pp. 127, 211.

Frommer, Harvey, Rickey & Robinson: The Men Who Broke Baseballs Color Barrier, Macmillan, 1982.

Golenbock, Peter, Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Putnam, 1984.

Kahn, Roger, The Boys of Summer, Harper & Row, 1971.

The New York Times Book of Sports Legends, edited by Joseph J. Vecchione, Times Books, 1991, pp. 252-259.

Robinson, Jackie, I Never Had It Made, Putnam, 1972.


New York Times, October 25, 1972, pp. 1, 56.

Ed Decker

Robinson, Jackie

views updated May 21 2018

Jackie Robinson


American baseball player

Jackie Robinson is most remembered as the player who broke baseball's color barrier. By stepping into the white baseball world, the black Robinson changed the face of not only baseball, but the United States.

Robinson integrated baseball during a time when schools, buses, restaurants, hotels, and drinking fountains remained segregated. His actions helped touch off the Civil Rights movement. That Robinson even produced during his baseball years is amazing, given the climate in which he played. After joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Robinson faced death threats, vulgar insults, and hate-filled fans, along with beanballs aimed at his head and sharp, shiny spikes at his face as opponents slid into his tag at second base. Despite the pressure, Robinson earned a reputation as a dead-solid ballplayer through his no-nonsense fielding, reliable line drives, and his mastery of the tricky steal of home. After baseball, Robinson committed his life to ensuring fairer chances for African-Americans. He marched with Martin Luther King, raised funds for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and politically supported candidates he thought would help the cause of his people.

Born to a Sharecropper

Robinson, the grandson of a slave, was born on a plantation shack in Cairo, Georgia. He was the youngest of five children born to Mallie and Jerry Robinson. Just months after Robinson's birth, his father, a sharecropper, ran off with a neighbor's wife, and the plantation owner ordered the Robinsons off the land. Seeking a better life for her children, Mallie Robinson moved the family to California, where her brother, Burton McGriff, lived.

Mallie Robinson found work washing and ironing and by 1923 had purchased a house in Pasadena, on Pepper Street. As the only black family on the street, the Robinson children were singled out as troublemakers. Neighbors filed false reports with the police claiming the boys were throwing rocks and vandalizing the area. Soon, the neighborhood united to buy them out. However, when some key wealthy families refused to support the plan, instead favoring the Robinsons' right to live there, the rest of the neighbors gave up, and the family stayed.

As he grew up amid poverty and racial prejudice, Robinson learned he could gain acceptance with his athleticism. In grammar school, kids would share their lunches with Robinson if he agreed to join their team. Robinson found that at least on the playing field, white students counted him as their equal.

During his childhood, Robinson befriended an interracial group called the Pepper Street Gang, which consisted of poor black, Japanese, Mexican, and caucasian boys. They roamed the streets challenging more affluent, mostly white boys to football matches, or other sports, betting modest amounts of money they'd win. Robinson sharpened his skills on the streets, then put them to use at John Muir Technical High, where he starred on the baseball, football, basketball, and track teams.


1919Born January 31 in Cairo, Georgia
1920Relocates to California with mother and siblings
1937Graduates from John Muir Technical High School and enters Pasadena Junior College
1939Enters the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)
1941Leaves UCLA a few credits shy of his degree
1942Joins U.S. Army
1944Receives honorable discharge from Army
1945Plays for the Negro League's Kansas City Monarchs; signs to play with the Montreal Royals, an all-white Brooklyn Dodgers-affiliated farm team
1946Marries Rachel Isum in February; debuts with Montreal Royals in April
1947Breaks major league baseball's 20th century color line by taking the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15
1956Plays last season of baseball; joins Chock Full O' Nuts restaurant chain as vice president
1963Marches with Martin Luther King in Birmingham, Alabama
1972Dies October 24 in Stamford, Connecticut

Multi-Sport Star

In 1937, Robinson enrolled at Pasadena Junior College, moving from football, to basketball, to baseball, and track, at times competing in two sports simultaneously. One day, Robinson set a junior college broad jump record of 25 feet, 61/2 inches, then raced across town to a baseball game to help Pasadena win the league championship. Though baseball was never Robinson's best sport, he stood out on the diamond. His first year at Pasadena, Robinson played shortstop, hit .417, and stole 25 bases in 24 games.

His second year at Pasadena, Robinson ran for more than 1,000 yards to score 17 touchdowns and lead the football team to 11 straight victories. He even returned a kickoff for a 104-yard touchdown. In basketball, he averaged 19 points per game and led Pasadena to the California Junior College championship. That spring, Robinson was named Southern California Junior College MVP after leading the baseball team to the league title, all the while running and jumping for the track team.

Colleges took note of Robinson, and in 1939, he accepted a scholarship to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). He was a dazzling runner in the open football field. His first season at UCLA, he led the nation with an average of 12.24 yards per carry.

During his time at UCLA, Robinson became the school's first four-letter winner, playing baseball, football, basketball, and track. While at UCLA, he met nursing student Rachel Isum, his future wife.

In spring 1941, seeing no future in athletics or college, Robinson left UCLA. "I was convinced that no amount of education would help a black man get a job," Robinson noted in his autobiography, I Never Had It Made. "I felt I was living in an academic and athletic dream world."

The fate of his older brother, Mack, may have prompted Robinson's disenchantment. Mack Robinson participated in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, finishing second in the 200-yard dash behind Jesse Owens . When he returned home with his silver medal, Mack Robinson's achievement went mostly unnoticed, and the only work he could find was street sweeping.

After leaving college, Robinson was drafted into the Army in 1942 as the United States became more involved in World War II. Robinson achieved the rank of lieutenant and became a morale officer for a black unit at Fort Hood, Texas, where the Army's policy of segregation finally got the best of him. One day in July 1944, a bus driver at Fort Hood instructed Robinson to move to the back of the bus. Robinson declined and drew a court-martial. Because of Robinson's stature as a respected athlete, the black press took up his cause. Eventually, the Army dropped the charges and granted Robinson an honorable discharge.

In 1945, Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs as a shortstop. The Monarchs, led by fireballing pitcher Satchel Paige , were a marquee Negro League team. Little did Robinson know, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey was monitoring his performance.

Part of Noble Experiment

In August 1945, Rickey brought Robinson to Brooklyn and offered him a chance to play baseball for the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' principal minor league team. Rickey told Robinson that if he succeeded, he could play in the major leagues. The watershed meeting lasted hours, as Rickey interrogated Robinson and tested his ability to turn the other cheek. Rickey, a devout Methodist who despised profanity, turned to role-playing, and, posing as an unwelcoming hotel clerk, or a Southern sportswriter, berated Robinson with every racist insult he could muster.

Rickey taunted and teased Robinson until, at one point, according to Glenn Stout's book, Jackie Robinson: Between the Baselines, an aggravated Robinson called out, "Mr. Rickey, what do you want? Do you want a ballplayer who is afraid to fight back?"

"I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back," Rickey replied.

Rickey understood that character would weigh more heavily in baseball's integration that batting average. Rickey envisioned a peaceful infiltration and told Robinson that he could, under no circumstances, fight back or he'd ruin his chances. Thus, baseball's "noble experiment" began.

The Negro Leagues: A Brief History

Following the Civil War (1861-1865), baseball boomed as a popular pastime among both black and white athletes. In 1867, the National Association of Base Ball Players was formed, but from its inception, the league voted to bar black players.

A few years later, the National Association of Professional Baseball Players did not outright bar African-American players, although there was a "gentleman's agreement" among owners not to allow blacks.

With blacks yearning for a league of their own, the Negro National League was organized in 1920, followed by the Eastern Colored League in 1923. In 1924, the first all-black World Series took place.

A Negro League season consisted of about 60 to 80 league games. In addition, the teams each averaged 100 exhibition games, generally against other semi-pro squads, small-town teams, and teams with a few white major-leaguers.

Black ballplayers enjoyed exhibitions against major league teams or those with major league players. According to The Negro Baseball Leagues by David K. Fremon, from 1900 to 1950, Negro League teams playing against teams with white major-leaguers won 268 such contests. The major league-stocked teams won 168. In 1912, Smokey Joe Williams shut out the New York Giants and New York Yankees within a two-week period. In the early 1920s, the baseball commissioner, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Lands, outlawed such intra league games.

Negro Leagues' innovations included night games. By 1930, the Monarchs began traveling with a set of portable floodlights. Attendance nearly tripled because day laborers could come. White major league baseball introduced night games in 1935.

By the early 1960s, the last Negro League club had folded. The Baseball Hall of Fame was under pressure to recognize the talents of Negro League players who, undoubtedly, would have made the Hall had they been allowed to play. In 1971, Satchel Paige became the first Negro Leaguer enshrined.

Before joining the Montreal Royals for spring training in 1946, Robinson married Rachel Isum. The honeymoon soon ended when Robinson arrived in Daytona Beach and found himself barred from the whites-only Riviera seaside motel where his teammates stayed. Not that it matteredRobinson's teammates didn't care for him, because the attention he drew made them leery. Also, Robinson's presence cut into their playing time. Many communities canceled exhibition games with the Royals because local law prohibited race-mixing. While playing in Sanford, Florida, Robinson singled, stole second base, then scored on a hit only to find the sheriff waiting in the dugout with handcuffs. He was removed from the game. When Robinson got the chance to play, he faced attacks from opponents, who slid into base with their spikes flashing toward his face or shins. Pitchers threw beanballs at his head. But Robinson didn't complain.

Amid the tension, Robinson won the International League batting title with a .349 average. That season, he drove in 66 runs to help his team win the pennant. He was named the league's Most Valuable Player.

In time, Robinson was promoted to the Brooklyn Dodgers. On April 15, 1947, Robinson shattered baseball's color barrier when he played first base for the Dodgers against the Boston Braves. He wore uniform No. 42, which today, has been retired from every ball-club in deference to Robinson.

Being the only black player in a white baseball world proved tough for Robinson. His teammates passed a petition to have him removed from the roster. Rickey, however, told the players that if they didn't adjust their thinking, he would be glad to let them go. In addition, Robinson and his family faced death threats.

Opponents were cruel to Robinson, too, and throughout games hurled race-baiting taunts at him. In addition, crowds showered Robinson with trash, tomatoes, and watermelon slices. The abuse got so bad Robinson's teammates eventually rallied around him. Pitchers knocked him down. He barely survived the first few months, then channeled his anger into his play and began to thrive, winning 1947 Rookie of the Year honors and leading the Dodgers to the National League pennant.

In 1948, Robinson switched from first base to second base and came alive. His 1949 season proved phenomenal, and Robinson led the league with a .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases. Voted the league's Most Valuable Player, Robinson also appeared in his first of six consecutive All-Star games.

One of Robinson's best weapons was his base-running finesse. With his cheetah-fast speed, Robinson could turn a single into a double. Once on base, Robinson would dance around and rattle the pitcher. He was particularly dangerous on third base, stealing home 19 times over his career. This became his signature play. Though he didn't do it often, the threat remained. His most famous steal of home came in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series in New York, off Yankees star pitcher Whitey Ford. Historic footage showed the steal, followed by catcher Yogi Berra 's heated argument with plate umpire Bill Summers.

Between 1948 and 1953, Robinson's batting average was .323; he averaged 108 runs scored, 91 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. Only Stan Musial and Ted Williams played close to his average during this period. In addition, Robinson led second basemen with double plays from 1949 to 1952.

The Dodgers clinched the National League pennant six times during Robinson's 10 years with the team, winning the World Series for the first time in 1955.

Career Statistics

BRO: Brooklyn Dodgers; KAN: Kansas City Monarchs (Negro League); MON: Montreal Royals (International League).
*Total reflects his 10 years with the Brooklyn Dodgers (excludes play in Negro League and International League).

By 1956, however, the struggles were beginning to slow Robinson. His hair had grayed, and he was heavier. He was also battling diabetes. Traded to the archrival New York Giants at the end of the 1956 season, he decided to retire, and in 1962, was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

Following baseball, Robinson became vice president of Chock Full O' Nuts, a restaurant chain that marketed its coffee nationwide. Robinson then became more involved in trying to make integration a social and economic reality. He was integral in founding Harlem's Freedom National Bank, marched with Martin Luther King in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised funds for the NAACP's "Freedom Fund Drive."

Disabled by diabetes that impeded his mobility and nearly blinded him, Robinson died on October 24, 1972, in Stamford, Connecticut, leaving behind a wife and two surviving children. His eldest son, Jackie Robinson, Jr., had died in a car crash in 1971.

Receives Hero's Funeral

About 2,500 people turned out for Robinson's funeral at New York's Riverside Church on October 27, 1972. Rev. Jesse Jackson enthusiastically recounted the events of Robinson's life and delivered the eulogy to a crowd that cheered more as though it was celebrating a ninth-inning home run than a funeral.

According to the Boston Globe, Jackson said, "When Jackie took the field, something within us reminded us of our birthright to be free. And somebody without reminded us that it could be attained. There was strength and pride and power when the big rock hit the water, and concentric circles came forth and ripples of new possibility spread throughout the nation."

" For a fleeting moment, America tried democracy, and it worked. For a fleeting moment, America became one nation under God. This man turned the stumbling block into a stepping stone." Jackson also noted that Robinson's tombstone read "1919-1972. On that dash, is where we live," according to Stout's book. "And for everyone there is a dash of possibility, to choose the high road or the low road, to make things better or worse."

Even in his death, Robinson remained an inspiration to African-Americans. He was buried at the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, the area of the city where he fought the hardest to make a difference.

Remembered as Superhuman Hero

When Robinson cracked baseball's color line in 1947, he also cracked open the United States and helped catapult the Civil Rights movement. Before Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, there was Robinson. For blacks fighting the fight, Robinson was a hero who showed superhuman endurance could pull you through.

Robinson remained a hero because he never quit fighting, even after he'd won the baseball battle. In his autobiography, I Never Had It Made, Robinson wrote, "I cannot possibly believe I have it made while so many of my black brothers and sisters are hungry, inadequately housed, insufficiently clothed, denied their dignity as they live in slums or barely exist on welfare."

Because of Robinson, blacks united, seeking an end to segregation in areas other than baseball. His victory in baseball served to unite African Americans who, following Robinson's lead, began to fight to be free.


Baseball Has Done It, Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1964.

(With Alfred Duckett) Breakthrough to the Big League: The Story of Jackie Robinson, E.M. Hale, 1968.

Jackie Robinson's Little League Baseball Book, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972.

Awards and Accomplishments

1939Named Southern California Junior College Most Valuable Baseball Player
1946Named Most Valuable Player of the International League while playing for the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers-affiliated farm team
1947Integrates major league baseball by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers; led league with 29 stolen bases; named Rookie of the Year
1949Leads league with highest batting average (.342) and most stolen bases (37)
1949Named National League Most Valuable Player
1949-54Selected for All-Star team
1952Leads league with an on-base percentage of .440
1962Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 23

(As told to Alfred Duckett) I Never Had It Made, Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press, 1972.



Craft, David. The Negro Leagues: 40 Years of Black Professional Baseball in Words and Pictures. New York: Crescent, 1993.

Fremon, David K. The Negro Baseball Leagues. New York: Macmillan, 1994.

Simon, Scott. Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.

Stout, Glenn and Dick Johnson. Jackie Robinson: Between the Baselines. San Francisco: Woodford Press, 1997.


"1947-1997: the 50th Anniversary of the Jackie Robinson Revolution." Ebony (April 1997): 87.


"Jackie Robinson Statistics." (January 26, 2003).

"Opening a New, Wide World: Robinson's Impact Felt Well Beyond the Chalk Lines." Boston Globe. (January 29, 2003).

Sketch by Lisa Frick

Robinson, Jackie

views updated May 18 2018

Robinson, Jackie

January 31, 1919
October 24, 1972

Baseball player, civil rights leader, and businessman Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson was born in Georgia, the youngest of five children of sharecropper farmers Jerry and Mallie Robinson. He was raised in Pasadena, California, where the Robinson family confronted the West Coast variety of American racism. White neighbors tried to drive the family out of their home; segregation reigned in public and private facilities. Robinson became an outstanding athlete at Pasadena Junior College before transferring to the University of California at Los Angeles in 1940, where he won renown as the "Jim Thorpe of his race," the nation's finest all-around athlete. Robinson was an All-American football player, leading scorer in basketball, and record-setting broad jumper, in addition to his baseball exploits.

Drafted into the army in the spring of 1942, Robinson embarked on a stormy military career. Denied access to Officer Candidate School, Robinson protested to heavyweight champion Joe Louis, who intervened with officials in Washington on Robinson's behalf. Once commissioned, Robinson fought for improved conditions for blacks at Camp Riley, Kansas, leading to his transfer to Fort Hood, Texas. At Fort Hood Robinson was courtmartialed and acquitted for refusing to move to the back of a bus. Robinson's army career demonstrated the proud, combative personality that would characterize his postwar life.

After his discharge from the army in 1944, Robinson signed to play with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. After several months of discontent in the Jim Crow league, Robinson was approached by Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who offered him the opportunity to become the first black player in major league baseball since the 1890s. Robinson gladly accepted the opportunity and responsibility of this pioneering role in "baseball's great experiment."

In 1946 Robinson joined the Montreal Royals of the International League, the top farm club in the Dodger system. Following a spectacular debut in which he stroked

four hits, including a three-run home run, Robinson proceeded to lead the league with a .349 batting average. An immediate fan favorite, Robinson enabled the Royals to set new attendance records while winning the International League and Little World Series championships. Robinson's imminent promotion to the Dodgers in 1947 triggered an unsuccessful petition drive on the part of southern players to keep him off the team. In the early months of the season, beanballs, death threats, and rumors of a strike by opposing players swirled around Robinson. Through it all Robinson paraded his excellence. An electrifying fielder and base runner as well as an outstanding hitter, Robinson's assault on baseball's color line captured the imagination of both black and white Americans. He batted .297 and won the Rookie of the Year Award (since renamed the Jackie Robinson Award in his honor) en route to leading the Dodgers to the pennant.

Over the next decade Robinson emerged as one of the most dominant players and foremost gate attractions in the history of the major leagues. In 1949 he batted .342 and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award. During his ten years with the Dodgers the team won six pennants and one World Championship. By his retirement in 1956 Robinson had compiled a .311 lifetime batting average. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1961.

But Robinson's significance transcended his achievements on the baseball diamond. He became a leading symbol and spokesperson for the postwar integration crusade, both within baseball and in broader society. During his early years in Montreal and Brooklyn, Robinson adhered to his promise to Branch Rickey to "turn the other cheek" and avoid controversies. After establishing himself in the major leagues, however, Robinson's more combative and outspoken personality reasserted itself. Robinson repeatedly pressed for baseball to desegregate more rapidly and to remove discriminatory barriers in Florida training camps and cities like St. Louis and Cincinnati. He also demanded opportunities for black players to become coaches, managers, and front-office personnel. Baseball officials and many sportswriters branded Robinson an ingrate as controversies marked his career.

Upon retirement Robinson remained in the public eye. He continued to voice his opinions as speaker, newspaper columnist, and fund-raiser for the NAACP. A believer in "black capitalism" through which blacks could become producers, manufacturers, developers and creators of businesses, providers of jobs, Robinson engaged in many successful business ventures in the black community. He became an executive in the Chock full o'Nuts restaurant chain and later helped develop Harlem's Freedom National Bank and the Jackie Robinson Construction Company. Robinson also became active in Republican Party politics, supporting Richard Nixon in 1960 and working closely with New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, who appointed him Special Assistant for Community Affairs in 1966. These activities brought criticism from young black militants in the late 1960s. Ironically, at this same time Robinson had also parted ways with the NAACP, criticizing its failure to include "younger, more progressive voices."

By the late 1960s Robinson had become bitterly disillusioned with both baseball and American society. He refused to attend baseball events to protest the failure to hire blacks in nonplaying capacities. In his 1972 autobiography, I Never Had It Made, he attacked the nation's waning commitment to racial equality. Later that year the commemoration of his major league debut led him to lift his boycott of baseball games. "I'd like to live to see a black manager," he told a nationwide television audience at the World Series on October 15, 1972. Nine days later he died of a heart attack. In 1997 major league baseball commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Robinson's breaking of the baseball color line by retiring his number 42 from every team.

See also Baseball; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Jim Crow


Rampersad, Arnold. Jackie Robinson: A Life. New York: Knopf, 1997.

Robinson, Jackie, with Alfred Duckett. I Never Had It Made. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1972.

Rowan, Carl. Wait Till Next Year. New York: Random House, 1960.

Tygiel, Jules. Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

jules tygiel (1996)
Updated bibliography

Robinson, Jackie

views updated Jun 08 2018

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson was the first African American baseball player to play in the major leagues. Most historians agree he had more influence on the integration of sports than did any other athlete.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919. The future baseball star was the youngest of five. His father deserted the family when Robinson was just six months old, and his mother, Mallie Robinson, moved the family from Georgia to California in hopes of finding work. Although segregation (separation of races) existed in California, conditions were not nearly as bad as they had been in Georgia.

Star athlete

Robinson channeled his frustration and anger over racism into sports. He excelled at football, basketball, track, and baseball. In 1939, a scholarship allowed him to attend the University of California at Los Angeles, where he became the football team's top running back. Having used up the scholarship funds before graduating, he left college without a degree.

The young athlete joined the Honolulu Bears, a professional football team, in the fall of 1941 but was drafted into the U.S. Army within a year. He was discharged in 1945 because of weak ankles, the result of years of playing football.

Enters the majors

For a salary of just $400 a month, in 1945 Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs, a baseball team in the Negro Leagues. Although he quickly became one of the league's top players, he had no intention of staying in the sport. He disliked the constant traveling and low pay. Robinson changed his mind when Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey (1881–1965) approached him with a job offer. Rickey had been searching for an African American player to bring into the all-white major leagues. He set his sights on Robinson because he admired the young player's determination and pride.

Robinson signed a contract on October 23, 1945. He played for the Montreal Royals in the International League, one of the Dodgers' farm teams. Many sportswriters and team owners criticized the Robinson signing, saying integration would weaken the sport and destroy major league baseball. Neither Robinson nor Rickey allowed public pressure to derail them from their goal.

Segregation laws made spring training difficult for Robinson. He was forced to ride in the back of team buses. More than once, games were canceled because of his participation. The injustice did nothing to prevent Robinson from leading the Royals to the championship in the Little World Series. Without a doubt, his talent was strong enough to take him to the major leagues.

Encounters racism

Not all his teammates were pleased with Robinson's progress. Some circulated a petition stating a refusal to play with him, but very few signed. In 1947, Rickey promoted Robinson to the Dodgers on one condition: Robinson would tame his temper and not allow racial slurs and taunts to get to him. The young star agreed but could not always follow through on this promise.

Robinson's entry into the majors caused quite a commotion. Teams threatened to strike, pitchers assaulted Robinson by hitting him directly with their pitches, base runners tried to injure him by spiking his ankles with their cleats. Throughout all this, Robinson was the target of racial slurs and insults. He received hate mail and death threats, along with threats to kidnap his baby boy.

Robinson remembered his promise to Rickey and tried to let his playing speak for his character. Skin color aside, he quickly became the player most fans wanted to watch. The Dodgers set new attendance records, and most of his teammates recognized the value he brought to their team. Robinson led the league in stolen bases and was named Rookie of the Year.

Fame as a player and a crusader

In his second major league season, Robinson frequently got into shouting matches with opponents and umpires. By 1949, his name was famous not only for his playing but also for his temper. He was named Most Valuable Player that year. For six consecutive seasons, Robinson batted over.300, and fans loved that he used every possible chance to steal home.

Because of Robinson's efforts, other African American baseball players were brought into the major leagues. By 1950, he was making $35,000 annually, more than any other Dodger had in the history of the team.

As Robinson's fame grew, he became more vocal in his protest of racism. When Walter O'Malley (1903–1979) replaced Rickey as Dodgers president in 1951, Robinson remained outspoken in his support of civil rights causes. He even gave advice to African American players on opposing teams. O'Malley was less tolerant of Robinson's crusading than Rickey had been, but not so much that he was willing to lose him as his star player.

End of an era

By the mid-1950s, Robinson had suffered numerous injuries, and his batting average had fallen to.256. In addition, he had a difficult relationship with the team's manager, Walter Alston (1911–1984). Robinson was traded in December 1956 to the New York Giants. He chose not to report to the Giants, so the trade was voided. A month later, Robinson announced his retirement, stating that his body could no longer perform at the major league level. Soon after, his health began failing. He was diagnosed with diabetes, at one point going into a diabetic coma. As a result of the condition, he eventually lost sight in one eye and suffered severe vision loss in the other.

Robinson became a successful businessman who supported political causes that enhanced the lives of African Americans. He became the head of a construction company that built housing for African American families, and he got involved in other ventures that encouraged African Americans to participate in business.

Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. In the early 1970s, Robinson was vocal in pushing for an African American manager in professional baseball. Two years later, Frank Robinson (1935–; no relation) became the first African American major league manager when he took over the Cleveland Indians.

Robinson was honored in 1972 when he was asked to throw out the ball for the second game of the World Series. Less than two weeks later, he died of a heart attack in his home in Connecticut . His funeral attracted more than twenty-five hundred mourners, including celebrities and politicians. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired Robinson's uniform number—no future ballplayer for any team would wear Robinson's number 42 again.

Robinson, Jackie

views updated Jun 11 2018

Robinson, Jackie ( Jack Roosevelt) (1919–72) US baseball player, the first African-American player in the major leagues. Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 after a year in the International League, he compiled a batting average of.311 before retiring in 1956. He helped the Dodgers to six World Series.