Jackie Robinson 1950 from the United States Information Agency
Occupation: Baseball Player
Born: January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia
Died: October 24, 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut
Best known for: The first African-American to play Major League Baseball
Where did Jackie Robinson grow up?
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. He was the youngest of five children. Jackie's father left the family shortly after he was born and Jackie never saw him again. His mother Millie raised him and his three brothers and one sister.
About a year after Jackie was born, the family moved to Pasadena, California. There Jackie grew up watching his older brothers excel in sports. His brother Mack became a track star who won a silver medal in the 200-meter dash at the 1936 Olympics.
Jackie loved to play sports. In high school he ran track like his older brother and also played other sports like football, baseball, tennis, and basketball. He was the quarterback of the football team and the star player on the baseball team. Jackie had to deal with racism all through high school. Most of his teammates were white and, while people would cheer him on the field, he was treated as a second class citizen off the field.
Jackie went to college at UCLA where he again starred in track, baseball, football, and basketball. He was the first athlete at UCLA to earn varsity letters in all four sports. He also won the NCAA Championship in the long jump.
Joining the Army
After college, Robinson went to play professional football, but his career came to a quick end with the start of World War II. He was drafted into the army. Jackie met the famous boxing champion Joe Lewis at basic training and they became friends. Joe helped Robinson get accepted into officer training school.
Once Jackie finished his officer training, he was sent to Fort Hood, Texas to join the 761st Tank Battalion. This battalion was made up of only African-American soldiers because they were not allowed to serve alongside white soldiers. Jackie got into trouble one day while riding an army bus when he refused to move to the back. He nearly got kicked out of the army, but ended up leaving the army with an honorable discharge in 1944.
Soon after leaving the army, Robinson began to play professional baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs. The Monarchs were part of the Negro Baseball League. At this time in history, black players were still not allowed to play in Major League Baseball. Jackie played well. He was an excellent short stop and hit for an average of .387.
The Brooklyn Dodgers
While Jackie was playing for the Monarchs he was approached by Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branch wanted to sign an African-American player to help the Dodgers win the pennant. When he approached Robinson, Branch told Jackie that he would face all sorts of racism when he first went to play for the Dodgers. Branch wanted someone who could take all the insults and not fight back. In their first conversation Jackie and Branch had this famous exchange of words:
Jackie Robinson Kansas City Monarchs from the Kansas Call newspaper
Jackie: "Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?"
Branch: "Robinson, I'm looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back."
Minor Leagues and Racism
Jackie first went to play in the minor leagues for the Montreal Royals. He had to deal with constant racism. Sometimes the other team wouldn't show up for the game because of Jackie. Other times people would yell at him, threaten him, or throw things at him. Through all of this, Jackie held his anger inside and played hard. He led the league with a .349 batting average and won the league's MVP award.
Breaking the Color Barrier
At the start of the 1947 baseball season, Robinson was called up to join the Brooklyn Dodgers. On April 15, 1947 he became the first African-American to play baseball in the major leagues. Once again, Jackie faced all sorts of racial abuse from the fans and from other baseball players. He even received death threats. However, once again Jackie showed the courage to not fight back. He lived up to his promise to Branch Rickey and focused on playing baseball. That year the Dodgers won the pennant and Jackie was named Rookie of the Year.
Over the next ten years, Jackie Robinson was one of the best baseball players in the major leagues. He had a career batting average of .311, hit 137 home runs, and had 197 stolen bases. He was named to the All-Star team six times and was the National League MVP in 1949.
Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier in baseball paved the way for other African-American players to join the major leagues. He also led the way for racial integration into other areas of American life. In 1962 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Robinson died of a heart attack on October 24, 1972.