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Whenever the coined phrase of “America’s favorite past time” comes up, there’s rarely an American who doesn’t immediately picture green grass, red dirt, and white lines making up the image of a baseball diamond. Baseball has been an integral part of American culture for decades, and the first half of the 1900s was certainly no exception. Another event during this time was the seemingly endless struggle of African Americans to gain rights that had long been denied of them. Most people would not immediately connect the two events with anything other than their time period, but the Civil Rights Movement and baseball were intertwined through Jackie Robinson and other players like him. Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play for major league baseball, was a crucial part of the Civil Rights movement because he integrated one of the most prominent past times in American history, using the respect, attention, and recognition found in the sport to make an impact on behalf of all African Americans.
Baseball was a major player in the Civil Rights movement because of its immense popularity at the time, with its appeal “not limited to one racial group” (73). Also, as far as baseball was concerned, fans were “primarily concerned with the excellence of performance… rather than the color, race, or creed of the performer” (73). With those ideals in play, Robinson was able to use his talent to make a name for himself in the baseball world. As he began to be known for how well he could do in the sport, he gained popularity in America. James A. Mannix was one man who started rooting for Robinson, saying, “The balls you [Robinson] batted out went far and high and some people who had narrow minds craned their necks for once and saw the light” (101). For Robinson, this newly found baseball fame was simply a way for him to get his foot into the door of racism and inequality for African Americans, paving the way for him to go on and do much more.
Baseball was only the first field that Robinson conquered where racism and Civil Rights were concerned. Once the country knew his name and recognized him, he could take a stand against the issues as a whole, speaking out for what he believed in and fighting to get something done on the matter. He wrote pieces for newspapers, saying how much he detested that “playing baseball is one thing and the color of a man’s skin is another” (79). Though Robinson was pleased that baseball had made such a major step forward in terms of integration, he called for it to go further, saying, “As long as the fans approve, we’re going to keep on making progress, until we go the rest of the way in wiping Jim Crow out of American sports” (113). Robinson wrote letters to presidents, one to Dwight D. Eisenhower to explain that African Americans “have been the most patient of all people” (116) and that they tire of being constantly told to continue doing so, one to John F. Kennedy, urging him to take action to protect Martin Luther King, Jr. from being killed like many who take a stand against segregation, saying “the world cannot afford to lost him to the whims of murderous maniacs” (118), and another to Lyndon B. Johnson, asking him to “continue to press for justice for all Americans” and telling him in closing, “We need an even firmer stand as the issues become more personal and the gap between black and white Americans gets wider” (127). Jackie Robinson was not satisfied with simply being the first to integrate American baseball. He took his fight a little farther, urging and staying strong through hatred and malice, pushing forward to try to make a difference for all of African Americans on every standpoint. Though baseball is what he made a name in, the fame he accrued from it gained him enough respect to push for the changes that he and many others felt were necessary in the country at the time.
Jackie Robinson is a name recognized and widely talked about throughout the United States. His fight for equality and Civil Rights most certainly did not go unnoticed and he made great progress in the time that he was alive. Jessie Jackson’s eulogy for Robinson spoke fondly of him, with kind statements such as, “He didn’t integrate baseball for himself. He infiltrated it for all of us” and “His powerful arms lifted not only bats but barriers” (132). Robinson integrating baseball “turned the stumbling block into the stepping stone” (132) for the rights of African Americans all over the country, giving them a renewed purpose and using the recognition of his name to push for changes. His success in both the baseball diamond and in Civil Rights, both intertwined and interrelated, is still widely recognized today, effectively giving him permanent and well deserved residence in history books throughout America.
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