Jackie Robinson made an important tepee in gaining rights for African Americans when he broke the color barrier of baseball in 1947. He did this by making civil rights his ambition even before the protests began (Combs 1 17). Jackie Robinsons fame as a baseball player and determination to defeat adversity transformed him into an inspirational figure for those involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born the youngest of Jerry and Millie Robinson in Cairo, Georgia, on January 31, 1919. However, after the spring of 1920, the Robinsons moved to Pasadena, California, and it was here that Jackie
Robinson grew up, learned to stand up for himself, and cultivated his abolitionist attitude (Combs 1 1-13). According to Mike Gimlet, author of “Jackie Robinsons Historic Impact,” Pasadena was a town “so racist that it took until 1997 to officially acknowledge [Robinsons] accomplishments” (Gimlet). This blatant racism made growing up hard for the young athlete. Children would throw taunts as well as stones at Robinson, but he soon learned to stand up to his white aggressors, a characteristic that would define him for his entire professional career (Combs 1 1-13).
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Robinsons other defining characteristic, his athleticism, displayed itself considerably early in his life, with Robinson excelling in every sport, even during elementary school. While attending John Mir Technical High School, Robinson lettered in four sports, basketball, baseball, football and track. Then while at UCLA he made history by lettering in the same four sports again. Karen Mueller Combs, author of Jackie Robinson: Baseball’s Civil Rights Legend states, “Had Jackie Robinson been white, major universities would have lined up with offers of scholarships or the talented young senior (Combs 16).
However, even with such undeniable talent, the racism of the times kept Robinson from achieving his full potential, a problem that would motivate him throughout his life. Even before the integration of baseball, Robinson displayed his intolerance for racism. While in the army, Robinson was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas. On a public bus, Robinson refused to move to the back when ordered to do so by a commanding officer. He was then court marshaled, but later acquitted (African American Biographies 106). Even though the dispute resulted in
Robinsons honorable discharge, it made clear Robinsons stance on bigotry. This event would become a major factor in his selection to integrate baseball. In order to understand why the integration of baseball was so important, one must understand the importance of baseball during this period. For the past 1 00 years, baseball could be considered more than the National Pastime and looked at as akin to a national religion. Had Jackie Robinson integrated a different sport such as football or basketball, he would not be remembered today (Gimlet).
However, though Robinson possessed incredible talent, there ere few people that were willing to draft him, or any African American onto their team. Luckily, sixty-three-year old Branch Rocky recognized that the introduction of African American ball players into the major leagues would be good not only for baseball, but also for America. Until this point, baseball had been slogging along with unfit players due to most of the young men fighting in the war. Rocky had heard stories of Robinsons fiery attitude and how he stood up for himself instead of backing away.
Rocky thought that Robinson would be a good man to integrate baseball due not only to his skill as a ball layer, but also because of the way he carried himself with the dignity needed to win respect from the other white players(Combs 38-42). Soon after joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1974, Jackie Robinsons talent became known throughout the country. Pirates first baseman Rail Kinkier described Robinson as the “only player [he] ever saw who could completely turn a game around by himself’ (CTD. In Combs 89).
Aggressive and intense, Robinson thrilled spectators with his fierce gamely. Although he was an impressive hitter and an adept second baseman, what caught the nation’s attention was his base inning. Using a technique from the Negro Leagues called Termination, Robinson danced up and down the third base line, agitating pitchers and catchers (Combs 50-60). With his daring base running, consistent line drives, double plays, six pennants and a World Series Championship, Jackie Robinson soon captured the hearts of millions across the country.
In spite of being loved by fans both black and white, Robinson faced considerable racism from the public both on and off the field. Pitchers would often aim their balls at Robinson to try to hit him. In one season he was hit nine times, an exceedingly high amount for professional baseball. Hotels also would discriminate against Robinson and the other African American players on the team. At one point, when Robinson was forced into a cheaper hotel, he and the other angered African Americans refused to stay in the rooms given to them.
Instead, they stayed up in the hotel lobby all night (Combs 1 9, 62-63). According to Richard Goldstein, author of “Jackie Robinson: Brooklyn Dodgers Legend and Civil Rights Pioneer,” “Robinsons triumphs in the face of bigotry evoked a sense Of pride among black people and forced the rest Of America to consider anew the doctrine of white supremacy (Goldstein). Robinsons small acts of defiance gradually compelled the hotels and his teammates to give him and other African Americans better treatment, as well as inspired other African Americans to take a stand. Jackie Robinson had become an icon.
A poll taken around this time named Robinson the second most popular man in the united States after singer Being Crosby. As his baseball career began to wind down, Robinsons importance as a public figure grew. Robinson became more focused on the civil rights event and he wanted to “use his sports fame to open doors for groups fighting for equality” (Combs 96). Robinson saw the integration of baseball as just one small step in making changes in society, and he wanted to help make those changes come about. He became well acquainted with Martin Luther King Jar. Ho, according to Karen Miller Combs, author of Jackie Robinson: A Civil Rights Legend said that without Robinsons example “[King] would never have been able to do what he did” (Combs 87-88). Robinsons influence stretched far and wide, inspiring others to take up the fight for civil sights. During the 1 sass Robinson worked on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), gave speeches, had a weekly radio program, and wrote a column for the New York post expressing his thoughts on all topics from civil rights to drug violence (Combs 97-102).
Peter Drier, a professor of politics in Pasadena, California wrote, “[Robinsons] efforts were as important as the supreme court’s desegregation decision or the Montgomery bus boycott in dismantling legal segregation and reducing bigotry” (CTD. In Combs 1 17). Although he did not dead a march or conduct a rally, all of Jackie Robinsons efforts to show that he would not be overcome by racism encouraged other African Americans to fight back as well. It was Jackie Robinsons small acts if defiance that led to 1949 Dodger Don Newcomer to call Robinson, “A forerunner in the civil rights movement” (CTD. N Combs 85). As a famous baseball player, Robinson was able to gain popularity by desegregating America’s most beloved sport and becoming a prominent sports figure. His popularity, combined with his steadfast attitude against racism and bigotry, led Robinson to take a leading ole in the civil rights movement. If Robinson had shown any weakness on the field, or lashed out at any of the people that tormented him, the entire integration of baseball would have been for naught.