Jackie Robinson’s Effect on Civil Rights

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Jackie Robinson was one the most influential athletes in American history. His achievements broke down the color barrier in professional sports, as well as having a major impact on American culture. On January 31, 1919, a man who would change minority lives forever, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson, was born in Cairo, Georgia, and lived in an almost all-white neighborhood. Racism against Blacks in this community was an accepted behavior, which was also a common theme throughout the United States throughout the Twentieth Century.

Whites were given privileges such as higher education, voting rights, citizenship availability, and easier land acquisition. Segregation in baseball also followed this national attitude. Although there was no written policy, there was an explicit “color barrier” or “line”, preventing African Americans from participating in the Major League Baseball (MLB) Association. Since the sport of baseball was America’s pastime and so significant to all Americans, Jackie Robinson’s determination to break the color barrier and integrate Major League Baseball had a crucial impact in influencing civil rights.

Robinson faced many challenges while growing up. He was born into a poor family and raised by a single mother with four other siblings, having the strongest relationship with his oldest brother, Matthew. Matthew introduced him to playing baseball at a young age and guided him to excel at the peewee, high school, and college levels. However, more importantly, Matthew taught him good life morals to live by along the way. Competing in an integrated school, the college of UCLA, for the first time, Jackie soon learned that as individuals, there was little difference between whites and minorities and this was an unfair way of being treated.

Unfortunately, he was forced to drop out of college right before graduation due to his family’s financial needs. Being home gave him time to think about his future, which led to being drafted by the army in 1942, at age 23. Army units were segregated in the war, but they were told as a whole that they would be fighting for freedom and human rights. This was a motivation for all Blacks, including Robinson, to be committed to the cause even though they experienced a segregated lifestyle in their units. However, not surprisingly, the Blacks did not receive what they were promised after the war. This provided a backdrop for a new generation of black leaders and activists to fight for the rights that should belong to them. Among these leaders were people such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Army Lieutenant Jackie Robinson. Although there were many different activists fighting for different causes, they all had a common principle of fighting for the deserved rights of the African Americans.

Life in the South at the time had a unique set of “rules”, known as the Jim Crow Laws. The Jim Crow Laws were rules preventing Blacks and Whites to integrate in any way, such as education, games, transportation, or marriage. For example, in Missouri, there was a law stating: “Separate free schools shall be established for the education of children of African descent; and it shall be unlawful for any colored child to attend any white school, or any white child to attend a colored school.” Throughout the southern states there were laws just like this one and this was extremely unfair to African Americans. This led to a Black migration from the southern states to more tolerant cities elsewhere. Although in many states it wasn’t an official law like the Jim Crow Laws were, the racism that was expressed towards Blacks was an expected norm which was widespread throughout. Since the Brooklyn Dodgers held spring training in the South, this was controversial when they wanted to sign a Black player.

The idea of an “unwritten rule” was inherited by the MLB, as it was expected for no teams to be willing to sign any African Americans. This was the practice, no matter their skill set, while technically it was still legal to do. The organization agreed upon, but did not write or sign a rule, that any club that was involved with any black players would be denied membership to participate in the league. Ever since the first game of MLB baseball on May 4, 1871, had been played, there had not been a single African American to participate in the organization, whether a player, manager, or any part of the club.

This all changed when the Brooklyn Dodgers owner, Branch Rickey, had a brilliant idea of adding a Black athlete to the Dodgers’ roster, however he was unsure who. He felt that bringing in an African American would be a money maker for the organization, since all minorities will want to watch him, but would also be a significant initiation for the future of the integration in the sport. At the time, Robinson was playing for a top team, the Kansas City Monarchs, in the Negro League, which was an all-Black baseball league. His impressive performance caught the attention of Rickey, and he felt that this highly competitive and talented athlete who played baseball for UCLA and the Monarchs was the right man for the job.

Rickey was aware that Robinson was an activist for Black rights and also carried a short temper. This was a concern for Rickey because he knew that the only way for Robinson to succeed is if he would be able to control his temper and ignore the racism thrown at him. When Robinson meets Ricky for the first time, it was recorded and quoted that Robinson said “Mr. Rickey, do you want a ballplayer who is afraid to fight back?” This was the opposite of what Rickey had in mind, as he responds, “I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back”.

Unfair umpiring, constant racial slurs, and dirty play were just a few things Jackie would have to deal with solely because he was Black. Robinson needed his determination to let his play on the field and controlled behavior prove he was better than the racism he was forced to deal with. Years later, as Duke Snider reflected on his time on the team with Robinson, he says, “He knew he had to do well. He knew that the future of blacks in baseball depended on it. The pressure was enormous, overwhelming, and unbearable at times. I don’t know how he held up. I know I never could have”. Robinson needed incredible courage and a strong will to face this adversity on a daily basis.

Robinson dedicated each and every day of his career to focus on changing the world, while not allowing it to change him. This started with his first appearance on April 15, 1947, against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. After more than sixty years of segregation in the sport, it had finally come to an end. The game had appealed to both Black and White Americans from all over the country. Robinson’s journey started with this day when he stepped up to the plate. Although he immediately faced an unfair umpiring call during his first at-bat and received both cheers and boos from the crowd, Robinson kept his composure, held his head up high, and proved to the world that he was just as good as any White ballplayer, if not better. He shocked the world by scoring the winning run of this game and being a hero during his debut.

However, as he would face more teams throughout the league, antagonism became more violent and dangerous for Robinson. He received death threats from Cincinnati, was spiked (stepped on with cleat) by opponents, and targeted with pitches. Surprisingly, he didn’t let these setbacks keep him from moving forward and striving for his goal. This almost wasn’t the case, when manager Ben Chapman of the Phillies verbally attacked him. Chapman used cruel, racist heckling, slurs, and chants in an attempt to bait Robinson into snapping and breaking down. Reflecting on this game, Robinson says, ‘It brought me nearer to cracking up than I had ever been”. However, conclusively, this helped Robinson with reducing the amount of rejection of his teammates towards him.

When he first signed with the Dodgers, most of his teammates made a petition to not allow the Black athlete to participate on the field with them. This petition failed, but displayed their feelings towards the situation and hatred for Blacks. Now, for the first time, a white Dodger player, Eddie Stanky, stood up for Robinson and confronted Chapman verbally and physically. This created a major change in the environment of the Dodgers locker room. Almost all players on the team now accepted Robinson as one of them and this was the first step to integration of the sport, but more importantly a sign of change in society and progression in civil rights.

In 1947, Robinson broke the distinct color line between Whites and Blacks, which not only changed the game of Baseball forever, but also had a major impact on Society. His achievements had gone way beyond the fact that he single-handedly had integrated the game of baseball forever. The invested leadership skills as a civil rights activist was not only apparent in his baseball, but was also translated from this into society. As Jackie’s wife, Rachel, said, “To the average man in the average American community, Jackie Robinson was just what the sports pages said he was, no more, no less. He was the first Negro to play baseball in the major leagues. Everybody knew that.

In remembering him, I tend to de-emphasize him as a ball player and emphasize him as an informal civil rights leader”. His coming to the league was a preview to the country as to what will be coming soon, the death of segregation and the newborn life of integration. Before baseball and while Robinson was in the military, once he did not leave his seat for a White woman. As a result of this daring action, he was humiliated and put to trial. This gave the world an idea of how strongly he felt towards civil rights for Blacks and intrigued Blacks on how he would lead as an example for them. Having a major impact, but not solely because of him, the segregated U.S. Military made a historic change to become integrated within its units.

This would mean that Whites and Blacks would fight together, just like Robinson did on the field with a ball and bat. This was seen to be heroic by Blacks and encouraged more of them to stand up for themselves, just like Robinson had done so courageously. He exemplified a defeat of bigotry from the Whites that felt superior on or off the field, by showing he was just as good as they were and was capable of achieving more. He stood out as an incredible ballplayer, which whites doubted a Black man could do. Examples of this, are he won Rookie of the year in 1947 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame in 1962. Jackie Robinson was an unforgettable icon for the Blacks and lead a pathway for all activists to fight the controversy.

Almost all Americans, including minorities, felt that Baseball was the national pastime, which made Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball so influential for civil rights and its activists. Robinson’s youth was like many other Black minorities in this country during the twentieth century. Unsurprising for a Black family during this time, he grew up with family challenges and poverty, due to the way this race was treated. His determination and will to impact the civil rights movement was truly remarkable. He stood up for his beliefs and displayed this through many things, such as the Military, baseball, and in all of society.

His courage to overcome all of his setbacks in baseball was heroic to all minorities, due to his representation of the values of equality that the all Blacks strove for. His achievements on behalf of his race left a lasting effect on baseball and American culture. Ever since he joined the league, the percentage of Blacks to be signed has risen yearly. Just one decade after he retired, there was a “whopping” twenty-seven percent of African Americans in the league. Today, a little over four decades later, players of color now comprise of forty-seven percent of the league! Society in general and minorities in-particular owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for Jackie Robinson’s vision, motivation, and dedication to the values he held so dear.


Cite this paper

Jackie Robinson’s Effect on Civil Rights. (2021, Nov 24). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/jackie-robinsons-effect-on-civil-rights/

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