Columbia Heights, Minnesota
By Gabe Hewitt, iLander Student Editor
"I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me," said the man who broke baseball's color barrier. "All I ask is that you respect me as a human being."
Many played a role in the Civil Rights Movement in all aspects of life. In professional baseball, it was Jackie Robinson. His courage and bravery in breaking the color barrier secured him a place in history.
Robinson and his four siblings were raised in poverty in Cairo, Georgia, by his single mother. According to the Jackie Robinson Foundation website, Robinson's family was the only African American family on his block and faced constant racism and discrimination. He played football, basketball, track and baseball in both high school and college. While attending Pasadena Junior College, he was named the region's Most Valuable Player in 1938.
In 1942, Robinson was drafted into the military. An incident in 1944 that involved Robinson refusing to sit in the back of an army bus ended in him being acquitted at trial and never being deployed overseas to engage in any warfare. Instead, he served as a coach for army athletics until he was discharged later that year.
After his discharge, Robinson began playing in the “Negro leagues”of baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs. In his first and only season with that team, he received a lot of interest from major league teams because of his talent. He would spend a year with the minor league team Montreal Royals before being signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Robinson became the first player since 1880 to break the color barrier line (African Americans were allowed to play at one time, but then were banned until Robinson). His presence attracted African American fans to Dodger home games and drew them away from Negro League games.
The national stage came with its downfalls. There was reported tension in the Dodgers dugout and some players even said they would sit out rather than play alongside Robinson. He was not only discriminated against by his own team, but several other major league teams as well. The St. Louis Cardinals threatened to strike if Robinson played. In games, Robinson was called names and received rough physical play from opponents. Through these hardships, Robinson managed to lead the league in sacrifice hits and stolen bases and was awarded Rookie of the Year.
In his career, Robinson was known for his athletic play on the field. His skills set him apart from other baseball players. In 1949, those skills earned him a Most Valuable Player award in the league. He retired from baseball in 1957 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame just five years later. He died of a heart attack in 1972 at the age of 53.
Robinson's entrance into the major leagues led to the entrance of other African American players. It could be argued that a lot of players in the major leagues would not be where they are today if Robinson hadn't entered the league. Through hardship, discrimination and racism, Jackie Robinson persevered to become not only an icon in sports history, but in African American history as well.
As Robinson said, "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
(Photo: Jackie Robinson received encouragement from some of his Dodger teammates after he was criticized. Photo courtesy of The Jackie Robinson Foundation. Used with educational license.)