English 41

Jackie Robinson

On April 15, 1947, Jack Roosevelt Robinson broke the color barrier. He stepped up to the plate for the Brooklyn Dodgers wearing number 42 at Ebbets Field in New York City.1 Robinson did not get a hit that day, but through his courage, he forever changed the way Americans viewed baseball; and one another.2

Jackie Robinson went on to play outstanding baseball. He stole 197 bases in his career, and in 1962 he became the first African-American player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Making3 Robinson’s achievements more remarkable4 is that he performed so gracefully, even with 25,000 enthusiastic fans in the bleachers.5 Robinson received nasty letters and even death threats. Spiteful pitchers aimed at his head, and base runners tried to spike him with their shoes. [6]

In 1946, 15 of the 16 major league team owners voted against integration. Branch Rickey, the president of the Dodgers, believed blacks should play alongside whites. Rickey was struck by7 Robinson’s courage and strength of character, and he signed Robinson to play for the Montreal Royals, a Dodger minor league team, in 1945. Robinson had been a football star at the University of California, Los Angeles. He had served like8 an officer in the Army, where he battled injustice. When Robinson refused to take a seat in the back of an Army bus, he was brought before a military court and found innocent.

Rickey made Robinson promise that for his first two years in the majors he would not respond on9 anger when insulted. It was a tough promise to keep. Fans threw garbage at Robinson. Opposing players hurled insults at him. One time in Cincinnati, a city known for its Italianate architecture,10 the abuse got so bad that shortstop Pee Wee Reese called time out. He walked over to where Robinson was playing and whispered something in his teammate’s ear.11 Years later, a sportswriter who called12 Reese’s display of friendship “baseball’s finest moment.”

After Robinson retired from baseball in 1957, he became an executive for a large coffee company. He continued to speak out against13prejudice and work for civil rights. When Martin Luther King gave his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech, Robinson was there. White Sox outfielder Albert Belle believes, all players14 should be grateful for Robinson’s tremendous courage battling bigotry. “I probably couldn’t have dealt with it,” said Belle. “It takes a big man to be the first in anything.” [15]