Jack Roosevelt Robinson (January 31, 1919 – October 24, 1972) was an American professional baseball second baseman who became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) in the modern era. Robinson broke the baseball color line when the Brooklyn Dodgers started him at first base on April 15, 1947. The Dodgers, by signing Robinson, heralded the end of racial segregation in professional baseball that had relegated black players to the Negro leagues since the 1880s. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
Robinson had an exceptional 10-year baseball career. He was the recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, was an All-Star for six consecutive seasons from 1949 through 1954, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949—the first black player so honored. Robinson played in six World Series and contributed to the Dodgers’ 1955 World Series championship.
In 1997, MLB “universally” retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams; he was the first pro athlete in any sport to be so honored. MLB also adopted a new annual tradition, “Jackie Robinson Day“, for the first time on April 15, 2004, on which every player on every team wears No. 42.
Robinson’s character, his use of nonviolence, and his unquestionable talent challenged the traditional basis of segregation which then marked many other aspects of American life. He influenced the culture of and contributed significantly to the Civil Rights Movement. Robinson also was the first black television analyst in MLB, and the first black vice president of a major American corporation, Chock full o’Nuts. In the 1960s, he helped establish the Freedom National Bank, an African-American-owned financial institution based in Harlem, New York. After his death in 1972, in recognition of his achievements on and off the field, Robinson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 1942, Robinson was drafted and assigned to a segregated Army cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas. Having the requisite qualifications, Robinson and several other black soldiers applied for admission to an Officer Candidate School (OCS) then located at Fort Riley. Although the Army’s initial July 1941 guidelines for OCS had been drafted as race neutral, few black applicants were admitted into OCS until after subsequent directives by Army leadership. As a result, the applications of Robinson and his colleagues were delayed for several months. After protests by heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis (then stationed at Fort Riley) and the help of Truman Gibson (then an assistant civilian aide to the Secretary of War), the men were accepted into OCS. The experience led to a personal friendship between Robinson and Louis. Upon finishing OCS, Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in January 1943. Shortly afterward, Robinson and Isum were formally engaged.
From Baseball in Wartime:
Jack R “Jackie” Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia on January 31, 1919. The year after his birth his family moved to Pasadena, California.
He graduated from Dakota Junior High School in 1935 and enrolled at John Muir High School where he played baseball, football, basketball, tennis, and track and field.
In 1936, he captured the junior boys singles championship in the annual Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament, starred as quarterback, and earned a place on the annual Pomona baseball tournament all-star team, which included future Baseball Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bob Lemon.
Robinson later attended Pasadena Junior College where he played both football and baseball. He played quarterback and safety for the football team, shortstop for the baseball team.
In 1938, he was elected to the All-Southland Junior College baseball team and selected as the region’s Most Valuable Player. After leaving Pasadena Junior College, Robinson chose to attend the University of California, Los Angeles, where he became the school’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track.
Robinson left UCLA before completing his degree in 1941 and went to Hawaii to play football for the semi-professional, racially integrated Honolulu Bears. He returned to California on December 5, 1941 two days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and was drafted the following year.
On April 3, 1942, Robinson entered the US Army, attended officer candidate school, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1943. He served at Fort Riley, Kansas in 1943 and then Fort Hood, Texas. Robinson was one of the few African-American officers at Fort Hood and when he refused to sit in the back of a military bus in 1944, he was subsequently court martialed, but acquitted because the order was a violation of War Department policy prohibiting racial discrimination in recreational and transportation facilities on all US Army posts.
In the summer of 1944, when Robinson was a lieutenant in the 761st Tank Battalion at Fort Hood, a broken ankle he had suffered playing football back in 1932 kept him from going overseas with his outfit. “My CO sent me to the hospital for a physical checkup,” he told Yank magazine on November 23, 1945, “and they changed my status to permanent limited service. After that I kicked around the tank destroyers doing a little bit of everything. Then I wound up as a lieutenant in an infantry battalion at Camp Breckinridge. In October 1944 I was given a 30-day leave and put on inactive duty. I’m still on inactive duty. What I’d like to know is, do I have to go back into active duty to get separated or will they just notify me that I’m out?”
He received a medical discharge on November 28, 1944.
Robinson played shortstop for the Negro American League Kansas City Monarchs in 1945 and batted .345 with five home runs, and made an all-star appearance.
Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers began to scout the young Negro League player and signed him on October 23, 1945. Robinson was became the first African-American in 57 years to break the Organized Baseball color line. “I realize what I’m going into,” he said at the time. “I realize what it means to me and to my race and to baseball, too. I’m very happy for this chance and I can only say that I’ll do my best to make the grade.”
The young infielder reported to the Montreal Royals in 1946. He lead the International League with a .349 batting average, and made his major league debut with Brooklyn on April 15, 1947, winning The Sporting News Rookie of the Year Award.
In ten major league seasons he appeared in six World Series and six All-Star games, and led the National League in batting with a .342 average in 1949, clinching the National League Most Valuable Player Award.
Robinson retired on January 5, 1957. He had wanted to manage or coach in the major leagues, but no offers came his way. Instead, he became a vice-president for the Chock Full O’ Nuts corporation.
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility, becoming the first African-American so honored.
Robinson was suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes, and he was all but blind when he died from a heart attack at the age of 53.
In March 1984, President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded Robinson the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
On April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of his debut, Major League Baseball retired the number 42, the number Robinson wore, in recognition of his accomplishments both on and off the field.
On October 29, 2003, the United States Congress posthumously awarded Robinson the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award the Congress can bestow. Robinson’s widow accepted the award in a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda on March 2, 2005.
On April 15, 2007, the 60th anniversary of Robinson’s major league debut, Major League Baseball invited players to wear the number 42 just for that day to commemorate Robinson. More than 200 players wore number 42, including the entire rosters of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Some of the above information was obtained from the Jackie Robinson page on www.wikipedia.com.