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Today we are all speaking on someone who helped make change and broke barriers that people thought would never be broken. In the 1940’s those of color were treated very unfairly, and were seen as lesser people. At this time there was an unspoken social code of racial segregation or discrimination in sports, education, and public service. This is better known as the color barrier, this barrier was broken by one man known as “Jackie Robinson”.
When he stepped onto the Ebbets Field grass on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson changed the landscape of the game of baseball and the nation itself. It was a victory for civil rights, a huge cultural shift and the beginning of a long journey. Jackie Robinson came onto the scene in 1947, breaking baseball’s color barrier and bringing a new style of play to the game. He quickly became the face of baseball and a symbol of hope to millions of Americans. With Robinson as the key component, the Dodgers won six championships in his 10 seasons, along with the 1955 World Series title over the New York Yankees their history long rivals . His time up in the major leagues is something that will be remembered forever, but his journey to get to this moment is what really stands out to me.
Born on January 31, 1919, in Georgia, Jackie Robinson moved to California because his mother thought her children would have a better life there opposed to the strictly segregated south. Apon arriving they were faced with discrimination because they moved into a white neighborhood. But when Jackie became a teenager he started to discover his athletic interest because his brother who was a silver medalist in the 1939 Berlin Olympics, inspired him to try sports. Robinson became a four sport athlete in High School, participating in football, track, baseball, and basketball. He would later go onto further his education at Pasadena Junior College before enrolling at UCLA, where he would become the first athlete in university history to participate in four sports during his freshman year.
During his time at UCLA he met his future wife, Rachel, they would get married following his time in the military. During his military career, Robinson nearly ruined his chance to become the first African American player in professional baseball without even knowing it was an option. On July 6, 1944, Robinson was on a military bus which was taking him to Camp Hood army base in Texas. While the state still abided by Jim Crow bus segregation, the military had recently adopted desegregated buses, a policy Robinson knew about. After refusing to move to the back of the bus, Robinson and the bus driver had a heated exchange, which resulted in a call to the military police, commanded by Captain Gerald M. Bear. Bear was trying to have Robinson arrested because of his activity on the bus, which eventually occurred on July 24. His trial on August 23 quietly ended with his amnesty, but the incident would come to light again when the Dodgers began contemplating on signing him. While he had committed no crime, he had reacted poorly when the incident. According to reports from the scene, Robinson had told the bus driver, “I’m not going to move a F****** bit” and told a white woman, “You better quit f ***** with me.” If this temper were to flare up during a baseball game, it would ruin the chances of a smooth integration to baseball. At the same time, it was clear he was passionate about his rights as an American citizen, which was also a value needed to break the color line. Someone who followed the “rules” of society may have just lied down and quit on the baseball field, but it was clear that would not happen with Robinson.
In a time where all talks of allowing blacks to be integrated into the nations pass time were being shut down. Mr. Rickey, an executive of the Brooklyn Dodgers decided look into the idea for an African American to play in the major leagues. Mr. Rickey would become the face of baseball’s integration project. Even in the 1940s, Rickey had already solidified his eternal fame by perfecting the minor league system that is still relevant to baseball today. So trying new things wasn’t anything new to him. With the Dodgers struggling when he took control of the team in 1943, Rickey wanted to quickly replenish the team with talent. At that time, the largest untouched pool of players was in the Negro Leagues, which is where Mr. Rickey went. By April 1945, he was already working on a secret plan to place a black player on his club. Rickey explained during a meeting with reporters how the contract agreements and scheduling of the Negro Leagues were harmful to black players, personally and as ballplayers. His remedy was a new Negro League called the United States League, which would include his own team, the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers. From there, the black media fired criticism at Rickey, saying he was aspiring to become the “dictator” of black baseball.
Meanwhile, Rickey sent his scouts to find him the best talent in America, knowing he had effectively disguised his plan to find an African-American to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. A UCLA graduate and World War II veteran was spotted by a Dodgers scout when he was playing shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs. This shortstop happened to be Jackie Robinson. While he had a history of standing up for himself, Robinson was still an attractive prospect for Rickey’s experiment. He had already played on integrated teams in college and did not have a scandalous off-the-field life filled with smoking, drinking, or any trouble with the law. More importantly, Rickey believed him to be intelligent enough to understand the role he would eventually take in 1947. Rickey had to carefully question every aspect of Robinson’s athletic ability, life, and character. Once Robinson was pinned as the man for the experiment, essentially he was going to be the test dummy for this experiment. He was signed to a minor league contract with the Montreal Royals, the AAA affiliate of the Dodgers, in November of 1945, a time of a great shift in American society. This was nowhere near the end of the battle for Mr. Robinson in the minor leagues he faced a lot of hardships and unjust punishment. On team roadtrips Robinson would have to stay in a separate hotel than his teammates due to the team hotel not allowing him to stay where the rest of his team was. This cruel behavior wasn’t just off the field it was on the field as well. Anytime the opposition saw an opportunity where they could get under Robinson’s skin they took it. At a point in his minor league stint he played first base, when runners ran down the line a lot of them would try to injure him by stepping on his ankle or kicking his foot while it was on the base.
As much as Robinson wanted to fight back he knew that all odds were against him and everyone wanted to see him relatiate so they could all say I told you so. He managed to keep his composure throughout AAA and on August 15, 1947. He went on to get called up by the Brooklyn Dodgers, which is now known as “Jackie Robinson Day”. This day is celebrated throughout the league, by every major league team has their players wear the number “42”. And as the great PeeWee Reece said to Jackie Robinson “maybe one day, we will all wear 42. That way they won’t be able to tell us apart”.
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