Life, Achievements and Legacy of Jackie Robinson, One of America’s Greatest Sportsmen
In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball when he became the first-ever African American to star in the current era of Major League Baseball (MLB). He made this history as a player of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Though Moses Fleetwood Walker had starred in the league some years earlier, Robinson’s debut came after the Second World War, a period referred to as the “modern era”.
This achievement is worth celebrating because it happened at a time when racial segregation was the order of the day in the United States. Before Robinson’s MLB debut, black players were relegated to a different competition known as the Negro leagues.
Mostly used as a first base, Jackie Robinson played in the Negro league for a couple of years before making his big move to the Dodgers. The transfer, according to many pundits, was a game-changer in the history of the sport.
In this article, WHE takes an in-depth look at the life and accomplishments of this great son of the United States.
A little history about Jackie Robinson
Born in 1919, the highly-rated baseball star was initially named Jack Roosevelt Robinson. He was one of the children of Jerry Robinson (father) and Mallie McGriff (mother). He was privileged to share his childhood years with his four siblings named Willa Mae, Mack, Edgar, and Frank Robinson. You will be surprised to know that his brother, Mack, was also a track athlete who won an Olympic silver medal and broke the 200 meters record in 1936.
Jackie’s father left the family when he was about a year old. This left him in the care of his mother who took up many jobs to provide for him and his siblings. This made Robinson’s childhood very difficult. The hardship, coupled with rejection from his friends, might be the reason why he associated himself with a notorious gang at an early age.
Where did he have his education?
Despite the economic difficulties, Robinson was privileged to have a good formal education. Until 1935, he was a student of Washington Junior High School. He later moved to John Muir High School where he developed an interest in sports.
With support from his brothers, Robinson decided to take his chances in sports. A multi-talented sportsman, he participated in five games during his time in high school. He was known for his performances in track events, baseball, football, basketball, and tennis.
After graduating from John Muir High School, the Georgia-born sportsman enrolled at Pasadena Junior College. His performance earned him a place at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). This was when he started making history.
During his time at UCLA, he participated in four sports (track, baseball, basketball, and football) and earned varsity letters in all the events. This made him the first athlete from the school to record this feat.
Dropping out of school and finding a job
Fearing that he might not get a chance to play in the major leagues, Robinson dropped out of school to try other opportunities. In 1941, he moved to California where he was hired by the National Youth Administration. During his time with the organization, he worked as one of their athletic directors. He lost his job the following year after the government failed to fund the organization.
With limited opportunities, the former UCLA student decided to join the army. He was drafted into the military in 1942. Due to his skin color, Robinson was named to a separate cavalry unit located in Kansas’ Fort Riley. This discrimination didn’t stop him from reaching his goal. In 1943, he was accepted into the Officer Candidate School where he was made a 2nd lieutenant.
However, his military career lasted for only two years. He was honorably discharged in 1944 after refusing to move to the back seat of a segregated bus. Before he was allowed to go home, he was arrested and court-martialed. He was later charged with many offences including public drunkenness. Though he was cleared of most of his charges, Robinson was found guilty of two insubordination conducts. After working with the army athletics team for some time, he was released from the army.
Putting his military woes behind him, Robinson decided to channel all his energy into sports. He returned to the Los Angeles Bulldogs, a football club he played before joining the military. He later joined Samuel Huston College where he worked as an athletic director.
The beginning of his baseball career
With many talents, Robinson might have had difficulties in choosing the game to play at the professional level. His decision to become a baseball player proved to be the right choice. While working for Samuel Huston College, the ex-military officer received an offer from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. Not many blacks at that time were ready to turn down a $400 a month offer, and Robinson was no exception.
Despite his fine performances, the talented first baseman was never interested in playing in the league. Gambling and disorganization of the league were some of the reasons why he wanted to move out of the competition. To find a way out, he auditioned with many MLB teams including the Boston Red Sox.
In 1945, Brooklyn Dodgers’ general manager, Branch Rickey, turned his attention to the Negro Leagues to find players for his franchise. He wanted a talented player who would not be intimidated by the numerous racial abuses which were inevitable at that time.
Out of the numerous players, Rickey selected Robinson. This decision raised a lot of eyebrows considering the latter’s history of reacting angrily to racial abuses. After making a promise to Rickey, Robinson signed a $600 per month contract with the Dodgers.
The following year, the Georgia-born baseball player was assigned to the franchise’s farm team called the Montreal Royals. For a year, he starred in the minor league where he recorded some impressive numbers as a first baseman.
How he made history in the MLB
Following his fine display in the minor league, Robinson was called up by the Dodgers ahead of the 1947 season. Wearing the number 42 shirt, he made his league debut in April that year and became the first black American to feature in the league post WWII. His debut was the subject of many media reports.
He ended his first season with twelve home runs and 29 steals, which became the highest in the league that year. His performance earned him the National League’s “Rookie of the Year” accolade. He spent close to a decade in the league in which he won the World Series in 1955.
Some of his remarkable achievements during his playing career
Robinson was regarded as one of the top players of his generation. This was the reason why he was selected into the MLB All-Star on six different occasions. He also led the National League’s (NL) stolen base chart twice. In 1949, he was named the batting champion in the NL. That same year, he was voted the Most Valuable Player in the league.
Jackie Robinson at the March on Washington, 1963
Robinson was one of the celebrities that attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. Organized by leading civil rights activists, including leaders from the NAACP, the protest was in response to decades of painful racial discrimination and segregation against African Americans in the United States. Its main goal was meant to tackle the challenges that African Americans still faced 100 years after the abolishment of slavery.
The March on Washington is best known for Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which in turn injected a great deal of momentum into the fight for change and equality in America.
Aside from the performers and activists, Jackie Robinson was one of the African-American celebrities that attended the March on Washington on August 28, 1964. He was in the company of the likes of Josephine Baker, Sidney Poitier, James Baldwin, Eartha Kitt, and Lena Horne.
Read More: Greatest African-American Civil Rights Leaders of All Time
To celebrate his legacy, the Dodgers and UCLA have retired the number 42 jersey that he wore during his time with the two institutions. The school has also named its baseball stadium after him. On June 10, 1984, he was posthumously inducted into UCLA’s Hall of Fame.
In 1962, Robinson became a National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.
In 2007, Arnold Schwarzenegger, then Governor of California, named him into the prestigious California Hall of Fame to honor his contribution to the state. In addition to that, he has been celebrated (posthumously) with other high-profile awards such as the Congressional Gold Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Life after baseball
Robinson did not leave the sporting world completely after announcing his retirement in 1957. After working with American coffee brand Chock full o’Nuts for some time, he joined ABC network as an analyst on their show titled “Major League Baseball Game of the Week”. This made him the only black American to work in this capacity.
He was also named the general manager of Continental Football League team the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1966. That aside, Robinson worked as a commentator for the Canadian baseball team, the Montreal Expos.
Fight against racism and political career
Throughout his life, Robinson suffered many racial abuses. This might be one of the reasons why he decided to fight the menace after ending his playing career. In order to take an active role, the former Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Through the organization, he had the opportunity to address a number of gatherings. He also got the chance to partner other civil right activists including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In one of his speeches in 1959, Robinson urged his fellow black citizens to protest against any form of second-class treatments.
In 1966, when Nelson Rockefeller was re-elected as New York’s governor, he made Robinson his special aide for community affairs. Five years later, he was named into the New York State Athletic Commission. He was widely known for his association with the Republican Party.
Marriage and kids
Robinson was the husband of renowned nurse Rachel Isum. The multiple award-winning health officer would later serve as Connecticut Mental Health Center’s director of nursing. The couple were blessed with three kids named David Robinson, Jackie Robinson Jr., and Sharon Robinson. Jackie Jr had an accident and died in 1971.
What caused his death?
Like his other brothers, Robinson also suffered from diabetes at a stage in his life. He turned to insulin injection as a way of controlling his blood sugar. He was later weakened by the illness and almost lost his sight at a stage. In 1972, a year after the death of his first son, Jackie joined his ancestors. According to reports, he died from a severe heart attack.
Some movies and television shows made about him
Robinsons’ achievements have influenced many television programs and films. His days in the military were recreated in the 1990 film “The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson” which was directed by Larry Peerce.
American actor Chadwick Boseman (1976 – 2020) portrayed his character in the Brian Helgeland-directed movie titled “42”. The movie, which was released in 2013, grossed over $97 million.