Some do not realize the impact sporting events can have on a country. Before April 1947, not a single African American had ever participated in a professional sport, and their talent level definitely wasn’t the reason why. Blacks endured a massive amount of racism and segregation during the majority of the 1900’s. Jackie Robinson was no exception. He is important to American History as a ballplayer and figure to look up to. Jackie Robinson will be remembered forever as the greatest African American hero that ever lived. Mallie McGriff and Jerry Robinson were both born and raised near Cairo, Georgia. The parents of Mallie and Jerry had both been slaves. During the early 1900’s, slavery had only been replaced by sharecropping. African Americans were free only in theory. Jerry worked hard as a farmer and ended up abandoning his family six months after his final son was born. Jackie Robinson was the fifth of five children born in Cairo on January 31, 1919. When Jackie was one year old, the Robinson family relocated to California in hope of a better life (Stout & Johnson 13-27).
The Robinsons lived in an all white neighborhood. As expected, a great deal of segregation was directed towards the African American family. Caucasian families of that Pepper Street neighborhood even attempted to buy out the Robinsons. Before entering school, Jackie was diagnosed with diphtheria and nearly died. After recovering, Jackie became obsessed with sports and was able to stand out from other students. Being much more athletic, white students often bribed Jackie to be on their team. Sports allowed Jackie to feel a small amount of equality. Unfortunately, when the competitions ended, so did Robinson’s equal opportunity (Stout & Johnson 31-34).
Throughout high school, Jackie excelled in four sports: Football, basketball, baseball and track. Because of his athletic ability, Robinson received an athletic scholarship to attend The University of California at Los Angeles. While at UCLA, Robinson still participated in all four sports. Surprisingly, Jackie struggled in baseball. He had a dismal .097 batting average his first year in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, Robinson was the first athlete at UCLA to letter in four sports. Before graduating from UCLA, Jackie Robinson dropped out of college, a very curious decision. According to his autobiographies, “I left because I was convinced no amount of education would help a black man get a job…I could see no future in college or athletics” (Stout & Johnson 56). For a short time, it appeared as if Robinson had given up hope of making an impact for African Americans. After dropping out of college, Robinson was drafted by the Army and assigned to a segregated unit. He faced extreme racism while being a soldier. Standing up to racism led to his transversal south to Fort Hood, Texas. Most soldiers stationed in Fort Hood went directly overseas. While in Texas, Robinson created a battalion baseball team, a decision that allowed him to regain his baseball skills. On July 6, 1944 Robinson made a decision to stand up against segregation and ended up paying a price of it (Stout and Johnson 62). During the 1940’s, African Americans were required to sit in the back of military buses. Blacks were also mandated to give up their seat to a white person if a bus became crowded. On that day in July, Jackie made the decision to sit in the middle of the bus. The driver immediately stopped the bus and ordered Jackie Robinson to give up his seat move to the back. By acting similarly to Rosa Parks, Jackie was arrested and facing legal charges. His military career was ruined. On November 28, 1944, Jackie Robinson was honorably relieved from active duty. The “Black Press” played a big part in publicizing Robinson’s story. He became a symbol of hope for many African American people (Rampershand 29). After being dismissed from the Army, Robinson needed some type of job. Not surprisingly, the Negro Baseball League attracted Jackie. He verbally committed to a contract with the Kansas City Monarchs for $400 a month (Dorrison & Wormund 102). At a time when the Negro Leagues were at its weakest, Robinson shined throughout the season. He racked up totals in hits, stolen bases, but struggled in the field. It was obvious that he had spent time away from the game. Nonetheless, Robinson earned a meeting with the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey (Rapersand 43). The meeting began with Rickey questioning Jackie Robinson about his background. History tells, though, that Rickey had already investigated Jackie and knew the answer to each question. Suddenly, Rickey began insulting Robinson by shouting out racial slurs. Confused, Jackie asked, “Mr. Rickey, what do you want? Do you want a ballplayer who is afraid to fight back?” Rickey responded, “I want a ballplayer with the guts enough not to fight back.” (Dorrison and Wormund 138). These two quotes make up the most famous moment of the first exchange between Robinson and Rickey. The Dodgers owner then made Jackie Robinson an offer of $600 a week to play for the Montreal Royals (Stout & Johnson ). The Royals were the Brooklyn Dodger’s Triple A affiliate team. Robinson wasn’t even guaranteed a spot on the roster. During spring training, Robinson struggled. He made errors in the field, struggled at the plate, and the other players felt as if Jackie was receiving special treatment. Speed was the only thing Robinson was able to display, and it is a big reason why he made the team. Robinson made improvements throughout the season but faced extreme hardships. Many times Jackie wasn’t able to stay at the team’s hotel. The Royals had to cancel a trip to Texas because the teams refused to play the Royals, and Southern crowds booed and heckled Robinson with every opportunity they got. Through the difficulties, Robinson was able to have a very successful season. He finished with a .349 batting average, 40 stolen bases, and the Most Valuable Player award. With Robinson’s great achievement in Montreal, promotion to the Big Leagues was inevitable (Weidhorn 54). On April 11, 1947, the color barrier of the MLB was finally broken by Jackie Robinson, something that had never been done. The African American ballplayer went hitless in his debut, but the day remains historic. Mixed emotions greeted Robinson throughout the season. Dodger fans loved number 42, but southern crowds continued to treat him with extreme cruelty. Some of his teammates even threatened to quit rather than to be on the same team as a black man. Branch Rickey did a great job standing by Robinson. He threatened to trade the players if they refused to play (Tygel 110). Somehow, Robinson wasn’t named to the National League All Star team during his rookie season. He led the Dodgers to the National League Pennant but couldn’t lead the squad past the New York Yankees. The 1947 Dodgers blew away the expectations put on them and overcome a large amount of distractions. They were able to take the Yankees to seven games, something that hadn’t been done in twenty one years. Amazingly, Robinson won the Rookie of the Year award. He was able to succeed against all odds (Weidhorn 77). Even after his success in the 1947 season, “I was a black man in a white world. I never had it made (Stout & Johnson 125). Jackie continued to gather large crowds, inspire young children, and shatter barriers. In 1948, Robinson was voted the National League MVP. He was named to the All-Star team for six consecutive years, 1949-1954. Many began to view him as one of the best players to ever play the game. After 8 years of being in the Major Leagues, Robinson and the Dodgers finally won the World Series. Number 42 retired two years later. Robinson lived the rest of his life spending time with his wife and son. Jackie’s health slowly deteriorated throughout the years. His years playing baseball as a black man took a toll on him. Jackie Junior’s death in 1971 also had a severe impact on Jackie Sr. On October 24, 1971, the man who changed baseball collapsed in his home. He was pronounced dead on his way to the hospital (Weidhorn 103). Every year, Major League Baseball honors Robinson on Jackie Robinson Day. Each player in professional baseball wears number forty two on April 15th. Recently, Mariano Rivera was the final player to ever wear Robinson’s old number. In 1977, Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, retired number 42 throughout the league. Bud Selig famously said, “No. 42 belongs to Robinson for the ages” (Weinberg). It’s amazing how Robinson is still honored today for his actions from over 50 years ago. This is proof of the great impact Robinson had on Americans and African Americans in particular. He paved the way for African Americans like Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Tiger Woods. It’s hard to imagine where our world would be today without the life of Jackie Robinson.