Jackie RobinsonJackie Robinson was born to a sharecropper’s cabin on January 31, 1919. He was the fifth and last surviving child. The Robinson’s worked for the Sasser family in exchange for their cabin and a few provisions. The family earned the equivalent of three dollars a week, which could only be spent at the Sasser plantation store.Jerry Robinson, Jackie’s father, left the family in 1919. Later the Robinson family moved to California where Jackie’s uncle lived.
Life was better there, but the family was still very poor. Jackie’s mother worked long hours as a domestic, leaving the children home on their own. Gaining an education was very important to Jackie’s mother.Because Jackie grew up in a time where opportunities were extremely limited for African Americans, he had to fight for everything. Jackie’s mother taught him that the future would not just “work out” but that he would have to stand up for himself at all times. He did. He had a temper and a fiery personality, which often got him into trouble. Jackie loved playing practical jokes that could sometimes be cruel.
He was also the leader of the Pepper Street gang, he felt comfortable in the gang because the members were a mixture of African American, Japanese Americans, Hispanic, and some whites. The gang got into some minor trouble with the law due to stealing, and other unlawful activities. Jackie decided to leave the gang because it wasn’t helping his life in any way. Sports probably also played a part in that decision. Jackie grew up idolizing his older brother Mack, who was also an outstanding athlete. Mack Robinson was so good in track, he went to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany as a member of the U.S. track team. He finished second to Jesse Owens in the 200-meter dash. Having Mack as an older brother helped push Jackie in his own desires. Jackie did excel in many sports. He went to Pasadena Junior College where he played on the football, basketball, baseball, and track teams.
After graduating from there, he received a scholarship to go to UC LA. Jackie enjoyed great success at UCLA, in fact he was at least one of the best players on each team. He was the first person ever to letter in four sports at UCLA.Jackie left UCLA in 1941 and began playing profession football for the Los Angeles Bulldogs. His football career was ended by the beginning of World War II. In 1942, Jackie left for the army. He served for thirty one months, during which time he was sent to officer’s training camp in Fort Riley, Kansas. Jackie was released as a first lieutenant.Jackie returned home after World War II and played baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American Baseball League. He was so successful that he caught the eye of Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie signed with the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers top farm league. He only played with the Royals for the 1946 season before Rickey moved him to the Dodgers to play in the major league. Since Jackie was the first African American baseball player to play in the major league, he had a tough fight.
Rickey made him promise to “have enough guts to not fight back. This was tough for someone who was used to fighting back, but he did it. Because of his willingness to take a stand and because of the courage he showed, he opened the door for other African American players. Three African American players joined the Dodgers the following season. Jackie played for the Dodgers for ten years. After Jackie retired from baseball, he traveled throughout the United States speaking for the rights of all African American people. He also advised the governor of New York on civil rights.Jackie died from diabetic complications in 1972. His life story continues to stand as an example of courage and the rights and equality of all peoples. There are many tributes that have been given to Jackie Robinson, but one of my favorites was given by Richard M. Nixon, who said that Jackie’s sense of “brotherhood and brilliance on the playing field brought a new dimension not only in the game of baseball but to every area of American life where black and white people work side by side.”