Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia on January 31, 1919. He was the youngest of 5 kids with three brothers and a sister and he was very close to his siblings growing up and would remain close to them throughout his life. His family worked as sharecroppers on a plantation while in Georgia, they were very poor as a result of the sharecropping system and were living in poverty. His father left the family to move to Texas while Jackie was still very young and after he left, Jackie's mother Mallie decided to move to the LA area in California. Millie took all the family she had there with her when they migrated and the party totaled 13 people. They had to sneak out of town, because the whites didn't appreciate their cheapest workforce trying to leave all the time and often had police officers patrolling the train station to make sure no blacks left. Although the family was able to make it out successfully and settled a little bit outside of LA in Pasadena, CA in 1920. California was not completely accepting of blacks but it was a lot more liberal than Georgia. They moved into an all white neighborhood and many neighbors were not entirely accepting of the Robinsons, although the neighbors came to respect them more due to Mallie's good character and work ethic, working two jobs to take care of her family. Without a father, Jackie's siblings were very important to him. His sister Willa Mae often took care of him and thought of herself as a mom to Jackie. His brother Frank was always close with Jackie and was the risk taking adventurous one, he often got in trouble for going to fast on his skates and doing dangerous tricks and eventually started riding a motorcycle. His older brother Mack was perhaps the most important to Jackie, he introduced him to sports and was an amazing athlete in his own right. Mack was a world class sprinter and finished second to Jessie Owens in the 200 meter dash at the Olympics. Jackie loved to play sports of all kinds as a kid, he was incredibly competitive in everything he did. He would compete against all the kids white, black, or asian and thought it only natural to do so. As a kid Jackie got involved in a gang made up of kids on his block, they committed only pranks and petty crimes such as shoplifting small items, but it was still troublesome. Jackie's friend and mentor Karl Anderson convinced him to quit the gang and became a positive male figure in his life.
High School and PJC
Jackie attended John Muir High school and quickly became a star athlete like his brother Mack before him. Jackie stared in tennis, baseball, basketball, football, and track and field and lettered in the latter four. He decided to attend Pasadena Junior College after high school and was in the shadow of his brother at first, who was the best ammeter sprinter in the nation at the time. Jackie would quickly find a way out of that shadow. Jackie became a four sport star, breaking his brother's school record for broad jump, and being recognized as one of the best the state had to offer in baseball, basketball and football as well. He starred at QB and football was the sport he enjoyed the most. He learned from spreading the ball around on a mixed team that no matter what race, people are affected by the same envy, pride, jealousy, and ambition. However he did break his ankle while playing football, an injury that would be critical later.
Jackie was heavily recruited coming out of PJC, numerous schools offered him scholarships including USC, UCLA, and even some people from Stanford that offered to pay his tuition to attend a different school in another conference. He chose UCLA because USC had been known to bench their black players. His brother Frank died in a motorcycle accident shortly after Jackie was admitted and it devastated Jackie. He really sought relief in sports. Jackie once again became a four sport star at UCLA, thriving in everything he did (except academics). Jackie also met his future wife while at UCLA, Rachel Isum, a bright young nursing student
Jackie decided to leave UCLA after two years, receiving an honorable dismissal. He made the decision in order to help his mother financially, because of all she had done and because much of the family was living with her at the time. He pursued a job with a small, unpopular, mixed football league, because all the major sports leagues were exclusively white at the time. He got a job as a running back on a team in Hawaii. He only had a brief stay however after deciding it wasn't for him. On the boat back from Hawaii he was informed Pearl Harbor had been bombed and hence WW2 was started. Jackie was drafted in 1942 to a segregated Army cavalry unit. He was stationed with another star athlete Joe Louis, a heavyweight boxing champion. The two applied for the Officer Candidate School but were unfairly declined due to race. However, they eventually got the chance after protesting the decision. Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1943. In 1944, Jackie had more problems with the ankle he broke at PJC. While waiting on the results, he boarded a bus. The bus driver told him to move to the back of the bus and Jackie told him he wouldn't. At the end of the ride Jackie was arrested by military police and charged with multiple offenses, some of which were completely made up such as the public intoxication offense he was charged with. Due to his ankle and charges he was deemed unfit for overseas duty and transferred to a camp in Kentucky. There he met a negro league baseball player who played for the Kansas City Monarchs and the man encouraged Jackie to try out. Jackie was soon honorably discharged that September. He was done in the military but he had gone to visit Rachel after the bus incident and they had gotten engaged, now he went to see her again and she wanted to break it off to peruse a career in nursing. She had graduated UCLA with at the top of her class with Florence Nightingale Award, the highest honor available to nursing students. They would stay together though, and by married a couple years down the line. Rachel was very important to Jackie for support and helped make his accomplishments possible
Start of Playing Career
Branch Rickey was the GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers and he was looking into bringing a player from the negro leagues to MLB, he was looking to break the color barrier. Rickey sent out scouts all over the negro leagues and Jackie was identified as one of the top prospects. He was eventually chosen due to his versatility with hitting, base running, and decent fielding. Rickey also did research into his personal life to find out about his character. He told Jackie he was looking for "someone with the guts not to fight back". Jackie had to take all the racism, hatred, hateful players sharpening their cleats to hurt him, Jim Crowe laws, and challenges ahead and not explode on anyone provoking him. A response from Jackie could have meant criminal charges, bad press, and a failed experiment. Rickey signed Jackie to a minor league deal with the Montreal Royals, the minor league team of the Dodgers. Jackie would have to make the Royals before anything else.
Spring training started in Florida that Spring and Rickey insisted that Rachel come along with Jackie. She was the only wife allowed at Spring training that year and Rickey knew she would be vital to the success. Jackie would need a strong wife standing with him through the challenges ahead. Florida was a much different place than Pasadena, it was less liberal and Jim Crowe laws were very evident. The two couldn't stay at the same hotels or eat at the same restaurants as the rest of the team and this greatly upset Jackie, Rachel had to be there to help keep him calm through it all. The tryout garnered much national attention, the press had many questions for him. One famous one was when a reporter asked, "What will you do if a pitcher throws at your head?". Jackie just laughed and said "I'll duck." He handled the media well the entire time and that quote exemplifies the mentality he had to have to accomplish his goal of getting to the majors. Robinson made the team and was shifted from shortstop to second base to compensate for his lack of great arm strength and to find a new position because the Dodgers had good shortstops. Robinson lead the minor leagues in batting average and fielding percentage that year and was called up the following year.
Jackie Robinson made his MLB debut and broke the color barrier in 1947, a historic event for the civil rights movement and African American culture as well as for baseball. The event was met with a mixed response. Although, he was a hero in the black community and popular among some whites, not all whites saw it as a good thing. Some of the white people especially in the south were obviously unhappy and it showed as he received hate, criticism, and even death threats. There was tension in the clubhouse too, some players would refuse to play alongside him. The manager of the team had to take a stand and it was one similar to the stance of Branch Rickey, he didn't care what color the player was if he played well and made the team money. He definitely helped the team, he earned the Rookie of the year award and had a batting average of almost .300. The next year would only get better for him, other black players broke into the league and some pressure was taken off him, one player was former Kansas City Monarch and Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige. He also took over at second base and played excellent defense. In his third year his batting average rocketed to .342 and he was voted an all star (the first time in a six year run), which would be the first all star game with black players. He had such a tremendous year he was recognized as the NL MVP. In 1950 Jackie would star in a movie "The Jackie Robinson Story" as himself. By 1953 Jackie had continued to play exceptionally well, leading his team to a few National League titles and had earned himself a string of death threats. He seemed to be unfazed though. He openly criticized segregated hotels and restaurants the team stayed at and caused some to integrate, further increasing his civil rights impact. The dodgers won the championship in 1954 an incredible achievement, however Jackie was already 37 years old due to entering the league at the relatively old age of 28. Two years later in 1956, Jackie retired from baseball at the age of 39. He immediately became an executive at the Chock full o' Nuts company and became the first black person to ever serve as a VP at a major American cooperation.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1962 off his baseball credentials alone and selected to MLB's All Century Team. He was the first African American athlete in any of the major sports and helped the civil rights movement by showing Americans that no matter what race you are you should be respected for your abilities, and by breaking a major barrier and inspiring others as well as acting to break down segregation himself. His lasting impact can still be felt today, he changed history and culture. He inspired and made possible the MLB debut of many black players after him, from Satchel Paige to Elvis Andrus, Ryan Howard, and David Ortiz. His number 42 is retired by every team in MLB, there will never be another 42. Every year MLB celebrates Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, he is remembered as every player on every team wears #42.
Jackie in Today's Time
If I Had His Abilities
Rampersad, Arnold. Jackie Robinson: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1997. Print.
Schwartz, Larry. "Jackie Changed the Face of Sports." ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.