Jackie Robinson

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The grandson of a slave, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia; he was the youngest of five children. Jackie grew up very poor, but little did he know that his athletic ability would open the doors for his future. 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 ability to the University of California at Los Angeles and became a top collegiate running back in 1939. Having used up his athletic eligibility, as well as having some financial trouble, Robinson left UCLA before graduating. After college 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. In 1942, Jackie Robinson was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was accepted into Officer Candidate School in Ft. Riley, Kansas and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in January 1943. While stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas, Robinson worked with heavyweight champion Joe Louis to eradicate unfair treatment of blacks in the military. However, inequities would persist in the armed forces for decades to come. He was later transferred to Ft. Hood, Texas where an incident in which he refused to move to the back of the bus found Court Martial charges brought up against him. He was found innocent, but was honorably discharged in 1944 on the grounds that his ankles had been weakened during his years of playing football. Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League in 1945 for a reported $450 a month. Although he soon became one of the league's top players, he was not fond of the low pay and relentless traveling and apparently 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. Previously part of the St. Louis Cardinal organization, Rickey made the move to Brooklyn. He felt that a more diverse culture would be a little more receptive to his plans. Ricky initiated his efforts by developing a plan to start up a new African American League made up of six franchises with one being the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers. The real truth was that it offered him a front to evaluate potential black talent to be integrated into the Major League. In the beginning, it was actually Boston, not Brooklyn that showed interest in Robinson and the two other players; Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams. Political pressure from Boston City Councilor Isador H.Y. Muchnick prompted the tryout. He threatened to take away the Red Sox permit to hold games in Fenway Park on Sundays if efforts were not made to integrate the ball club. Plans were put together by Pittsburgh Courier sportswriter Wendell Smith. The tryouts led to a dead end, and none of the three players were signed. Ironically, Boston in 1959 would be the last team in the majors to integrate their ballclub. However, on October 23, 1945, Robinson signed a contract with Rickey to play for the Montreal Royals; a Dodgers farm team in the International League. Prior to the signing, Ricky went through extreme detail with Robinson on what it would take to be successful in the majors. He tormented and ridiculed him with potential situations that he could encounter. Robinson was able to maintain his demeanor. Jackie made a commitment to Ricky that...
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