Posted on June 18 2021
By Becky Sicking
Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier in one of the most American of all sports: baseball.
Baseball is a favorite American pastime, especially in the summer. Jackie Robinson is one of the most important figures in the history of the game. In fact, Major League Baseball (MLB), the sport’s professional organization, celebrates April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day. Robinson is also in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was inducted on July 3, 1962. What makes Robinson so special? For starters, he was the first African American to play in the major leagues. This was well before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. At that time, America was still segregated. Bathrooms, public pools, public transportation, and even water fountains were separated by race. Baseball leagues too were segregated. But along came Jackie Robinson.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia, on January 31, 1919. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Pasadena, California. He was the youngest of five children. His mother raised the children. They had little money, but Robinson excelled at sports. In high school, he played football, baseball, track, and basketball. He played tennis too, and won the junior boys singles championship in the Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament. Robinson’s older brother Matthew (Mack) was also athletic. He ran the 200-meter dash at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. He even won the silver medal, just behind Jesse Owens, another famous African American sports hero. Inspired by Mack, Jackie decided he wanted to play sports professionally.
He attended UCLA and became the university’s first student to earn varsity letters in four different sports. However, in 1941 he had to leave. He was unable to finish due to financial hardship. He was just short of graduating. He moved to Hawaii and began playing football with the Honolulu Bears. World War II, however, cut his football career short.
World War II and Early Protest
Robinson served as a second lieutenant in an African American unit of the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1944. He never saw combat, however. In 1944, at Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson was on a military bus returning from the officer’s club for African Americans. He sat next to Virginia Jones, the wife of a fellow officer. Jones, however, passed for white. The driver of the bus saw Jones and demanded Robinson move to the back of the bus. Robinson refused. At this time of segregation, African Americans were not to sit next to whites and had to give up their seat if necessary.