Saturday, 28 May 2016

Jackie Robinson

"Jackie Robinson was a sitter inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides." 
(Martin Luther King Jr.)

Pitchers threw at his head.  Runners tried to spike him.  Players taunted him.  Fans issued death threats.  The Brooklyn Dodgers Jackie Robinson, despite all of the abuse, turned the other cheek.  It was through his talent on the baseball field, rather than through fighting back, that he earned the respect of the nation.  
Athlete in UCLA track uniform at the apex of a jump, with legs lunging forward, against a background of an academic building.

Born in rural Georgia and raised in Pasadena, California, Jackie Robinson faced adversity at an early age when his father walked out on his family.  Robinson excelled as an athlete, lettering in four sports at the U.C.L.A.  He joined the Army where he even learned how to box.  It was during his Army stint that he was reprimanded for sitting beside a white person on a bus.  It would be the first of many reprimands.

Black man in military uniform featuring the crossed-sabre insignia of a U.S. Cavalry unit receives a salute from a person out of view.

Brooklyn Dodgers coach Branch Rickey saw promise in Jackie Robinson.  He asked him to sign with his farm team, the Montreal Royals.  He had one question for the athlete:  "Did he have the guts?"  Jackie immediately said yes.  Mr. Rickey qualified the question:  "Did he have the guts not to fight back?"  Jackie promised to keep his temper in check.

Two white men in baseball uniform with back to camera watch a black baseball player take batting practice

Jackie Robinson playing for the Montreal Royals courtesy 

In 1947, Jackie broke the colour barrier in major league baseball when he played his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  It was a historic occasion, but it was the first step in the process of integration.  Travelling with the team, Jackie was sometimes banned from the all white hotels.Some Dodgers voiced formal complaints about a black being on the team.  IN an era when Black sports reporters still sat in the stands rather than the press box, fans booed Jackie.  Some stadiums banned the baseball club they had a Black player on their team.  And Phillies player, and later manager, Ben Chapman called Jackie a "nigger" and told him to "Go back to the cotton fields."  The abuse was so volatile that it made headlines in the New York papers.  

Jackie Robinson poses with Ben Chapman circa 1947, a publicity stunt to prove that Chapman was not a racist courtesy

However, some individuals stood behind Jackie.  Mr. Rickey continued to support his newest player.  A black sports writer befriended Jackie and followed him from game to game, reporting on his success.  And Jackie's wife, Rachel, was always by his side, giving Jackie a stability that he never had when he was a little boy.  

Jackie led the Dodgers to a World Series pennant in 1955 and retired two years later, to the disappointment of his loyal fans.  In a shocking twist, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles shortly thereafter.  The times were changing.  

Brooklyn Dodgers win the World Series in 1955 courtesy

Jackie worked as an executive at Chock Full of Nuts.  He became the voice of the civil rights movement.  He never hesitated to speak up about what was wrong with America.  He participated in the famous March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his I Have a Dream speech in 1963.  Jackie never had the chance to enjoy his retirement.  He succumbed to diabetes and heart disease at the young age of 53.

Jackie Robinson, with wife Rachel on the right and son David on the left, participates in the famous March on Washington in 1963 courtesy 

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