Jackie Robinson forever changed the face of American history on Opening Day 1947, as he became one of the most influential athletes to break the color barrier in professional sports, and in several ways, the color barrier in America. Born into a poor black family in the South, Robinson had to deal with a racist nation growing up. Robinson also dealt with this racism throughout his Hall of Fame career. Changed perhaps by all the hardships that he had faced during his childhood and baseball career, Jackie became an advocate for racial indifference. After his career had ended, Robinson used his popularity and fame to become involved in government, business deals, and with civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. He strived to help under privilege black children, and help them stay off the streets and plan for success in their future. I never had it made, but I had to try. quoted Robinson, (Robinson, 16).
Jack Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born January 31, 1919 to Jerry and Mallie Robinson. Jerry was a very poor sharecropper, and brought in enough money to feed his five children. Mallie worked as a house keeper to a very wealthy plantation owner. Jerry, tired of being poor, started to have an affair with the daughter of a very wealthy black family. Mallie upset with her husband, took her kids and along with several other families, gathered their belongings and moved to Pasadena, California. This is where Jackie would group up, and turn to athletics to solve his academic and homeproblems. A natural athlete, Robinson played football, basketball, baseball, and track and field at Pasadena Community College.
Angeles), where he again excelled in football, basketball, baseball and track. After college, he was drafted in the Army and served in World War II. Upon his return, he played professional basketball for the Los Angeles Red Devils for a year. He then attended a try out with the Kansas City Monarchs, a baseball team in the Negro Leagues, and quickly signed a contract to play second base. Then in 1945, his dream came true. The Brooklyn Dodgers offered him a contract to play baseball. Jackie Robinson was going to play second base for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
On April 15, 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers started Jackie Robinson at second base, making him the first African American ever to play professional baseball. Over night, Jackie became a national figure, unfortunately most of this fame was due to the color of his skin. Some whites were outraged, others were glad, and African Americans hoped for his success. He started receiving hundreds of letters of hate mail, yet Robinson pretended like it did not exist. Instead, he went out day after day trying to quiet his critics with his blazing speed, and hard nose play. In 1947 won the first ever Rookie of the Year Award. At the end of his rookie season, he was one of the most respected men of any color in America. In fact, in a national pole, he was ranked ahead of President Truman, General Eisenhower, General MacArthur, Bob Hope, and Bing Crosby, (Rampersad, 180).
Jackie Robinson used his success and fame to be one of the most vocal members in the fight for African American rights. He became an active member and a spokesperson for the NAACP, (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). They awarded Robinson their Annual Merit Award in 1947 for being, the first man to pick up a baseball bat and knock prejudice out of the ballpark, (191). Then in 1949, he won the Most Valuable Player Award. Support of him began to build, but no one supported Robinson more than his teammate, ally, and best friend Pee Wee Reese. He was quickly becoming more than just a baseball player. He was becoming a national hero.
On January 7, 1957, Jackie Robinson quietly walked into the Ebbets Field locker room, gathered his things, and said goodbye to the game that was his life. Its like having to starting all over, like the past never existed, replied Robinson as he left the locker room, (Allen, 124). Nevertheless, Jackie didnt take long to get started again. Along with being an active member of the NAACP, he became involved in the establishment and development of several YMCAS (Young Mens Christians Association), throughout some under privilege black neighborhoods in New York City. He felt that if he could give these young men a chance to learn and participate in sports, maybe they could have chance to live a successful life, (211). He also established a fund in New York City that would annually collect money and toys, so that poor black families could have toys to give to their kids during the Christmas holiday.
Jackie Robinson also became involved in business, government, and began to fight even more for African American Rights. When William Black, a New York business man, came to Jackie with an offer, he could do nothing but accept it. Black was going to build several coffee shops in the New York area, and he wanted African Americans to work beside white Americans. He came to Robinson because he wanted him to be the Personnel Director of his restaurant chain. Robinson accepted this offer, because it put him in charge of the welfare of about a thousand blacks. Robinson also started to travel with Martin Luther King Jr. and help with his crusade for
African American rights. He would also get involved in some public debates with Malcolm X. Robinson frequently participated in protests throughout the eastern United States. Along with his son, Jackie Jr., Robinson held anti-drug block parties in some poor neighborhoods in New York, and tried to get kids involved in sports rather than drugs. Robinson also became a special assistant to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and together they worked to try to clean up some poor black neighborhoods and to set up organizations and funds for the advancement of black youth. In 1960, Robinson campaigned for Richard Nixon. Although he would later say that, The Nixon I met in 1960 resembled nothing like the Nixon that would become President, quoted Robinson, (Robinson, 135). Until his death in 1972, Jack never missed a beat and continued his work to help improve America.
Jackie Robinson worked hard all the way up to his last day. October 23, 1972, Jackie went to his office, and made his daily rounds to local wholesalers where he bought food and canned goods, and then delivered them to Lacy Covingtons Nazarene Baptist Church for distribution to the poor, (Rampersad, 460). The next morning he died on the way to the hospital, at the age of 53. The nation lost one of, if not the most influential black man in the history of our nation. Not only did add a lot to the game of baseball, as he paved the way for future African American greats such as Satchel Paige and Willie Mays, but also paved the way for all blacks in America. He worked to try to give blacks a chance to succeed in life and make something of their future. He donated his time, money and ideas to help erase the discrimination and segregation that plagued America for so many years. Jackie Robinson should not be known only as an MVP and Hall of Fame second baseman, but one of the ! greatest black men in the history of America.